Just about a decade ago it was rare to witness individual fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic. But today, almost everything comes packaged in a plastic film. Although such packaging helps to preserve products for longer period of time, we are often oblivious of the fact that they are the biggest irritants chocking our oceans.Globally, as little as 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017, and each year, more than 8 million tons of plastic waste makes it into the world’s oceans (UNEP, 2017).

The root of the packaging wastage issue in grocery stores is attached to the way the food is packaged and sold to the end consumers. After being shipped in boxes, the food sits on the grocery shelf, often wrapped in plastic or cellophane. Consumers then carry the same food already wrapped in plastic in another plastic bag. Thus, there is a never ending trail of plastic wastage that keeps on multiplying from the producers till the end consumers.

The entry of the Zero- waste grocery stores :  

As a consequence of the extreme packaging wastage issue, there is a tremendous public resentment and backlash against single-use plastic packaging in recent years. For instance there have been well over 100 plastic attacks around the world, mostly in Europe, but also in Hong Kong, South Korea, Canada, Peru and the United States (Tutton, 2018). It has compelled many retailers to start rethinking about their waste footprint and design stores with minimum plastic packaging.  As a result, “Zero-waste” or package-free shops, which sell nothing wrapped in unnecessary packaging like plastic, cardboards came into existence. By offering people the option to buy bulk items in their own containers, or purchase refillable ones, these new package-free stores could change the way we shop. 

The trend of zero-waste grocery stores is spreading rapidly all around the world. Several zero-waste stores have opened across Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, Singapore and mainland China (Brinkley, 2018). Thus the following sections will analyse the different formats of such zero waste grocery stores around the world.  

The following are some of the popular design models of zero waste grocery stores:  

1. Refill format:  

One of the most popular zero waste design models amongst retailers is the refill format. Whereas non-food/specialty shops have remained successful in implementing such model in the past, grocery stores are still figuring out on ways to apply this refill model successfully. However many grocery stores are on the rise to aggressively commit themselves towards such a model, which can be evidenced from the following sections.  

©Judith Olive Oil

Some of the characteristic features of such stores are as follows: 

  •  Selling food items in bulk rather than plastic:

Many stores have developed such an approach to encourage customers to bring their own bags. Usually, customers bring in their own refillable containers which are then filled up with bulk buy foods such as grains, pulses, spices, fruits, vegetables and more. Additionally, there are also refills for toiletries, cleaning supplies and other household items.   

For instance, Green Parrot in Swaffham, UK is an independent health food shop which has successfully saved over 5,000 plastic bags and 1,000 plastic bottles during 2018 through its zero-waste refill rooms with dispensers (Hardy, 2019).  At Nada store of  Canada, a dishwasher-safe tag comes as part of their refill system, which makes it easier for returning customers. The tag will store the weight of the empty container, so customers can skip the “tap and weight” step the next time they shop. Big retailers are also slowly catching up with the trend of the refill system. For example, Marks & Spencer is set to launch more than 90 lines of loose fruit and vegetables free of all plastic packaging in a trial which will involve trained greengrocers on hand to help customers (Malley, 2019). 

Other stores that are following the similar footsteps include Precycle, a zero-waste grocery store in Brooklyn,Delicious food,Amsterdam ,The Filling Station in New York and Slowood of Hong Kong. 

  • Offering wholesome zero wastage product and services:  

Sustainable Non-Food items: Apart from providing a refill system for food items these stores also offer diverse, sustainable products and services. It ranges from providing packaging alternatives to sustainable non-food items. For instance, The Refillery in Newington, Edinburgh, stocks ethical detergents, beeswax wraps, cruelty-free  shampoos and even toothpaste in a jar along with food products and is passionate about reducing plastic across different product lines. On the other hand Marks and Spencer(“M&S”) said it has committed to replacing plastic produce bags with paper ones and phasing out plastic barcode stickers in favor of eco-friendly alternatives in every one of its UK stores (Malley, 2019).  

Straight@Amanda Palmar

Inculcating more sustainable lifestyle: Apart from alternative products these stores are going one step ahead by providing services which can facilitate sustainable lifestyle amongst customers. For example, Nada has already expanded the product offering and added a cafe that diverts what could otherwise become food waste from the market’s produce section to an ever-changing menu featuring soups and other dishes (Ottawa Citizen, 2019). Slowood store also has a vegan cafe that applies the same tread-softly philosophy to its menu and kitchen practices (James, 2019).  Greengrocers of M&S will offer customers help to pick and weigh their products and advise on how best to preserve fresh produce and prevent food waste at home as M&S has removed “best before” date labels as part of the trial (Malley, 2019). 

Supporting local charity with the proceeds : 

Many stores combine their zero waste design model to support other causes in the local community. For instance, Hemp bags are produced for the Green Parrot store (UK) by a group of local women, who also send them to Starlings, another independent shop located on the Market Place in the town. All proceeds from these bags go to local charities.  Nature’s Nutrition in North Devon,UK refill shop re-opened as a Community Interest Company some 18 months ago, and all profit goes back into projects in the local community (Howells, 2019). 

2. Zero waste Delivery services:

Not many delivery services are currently able to adopt zero plastic waste  model. However, The Wally Shop of Brooklyn is an exception which has ventured into such a model. It buys produce, grains and herbs from local bulk shops and  farmers’ markets. The service tries to make sure food is as fresh as possible, ideally traveling from farm to customer the same day. Couriers drop off and pick up reusable packaging. Right now, the service only operates in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, but it’s looking to expand to the rest of New York, as well as other cities. 

3. Reusable package model or the “Milkman Model”:  

A few big companies are also working on alternative ways to work towards reducing their waste footprint while also projecting their brand image as sustainable. Their efforts led to the durable packaging program, called “Loop” — a reference to a theoretical circular economy where nothing is wasted — making its debut at the World Economic Forum in Davos (WEF, 2019). Led by New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle, Loop will offer popular products from about 25 companies including Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo in reusable containers that customers order online or purchase in stores and return to the company when finished. 

Loop will collect a refundable deposit that customers will get back when they return their containers. UPS will pick up the empties for no additional charge. Even allowing for the energy required to transport and prepare the products for reuse, the program reduces waste, TerraCycle says. By midMay, products from Loop will initially be available online to customers in Paris through Carrefour and, in the U.S., in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  

Why Should Consumers prefer such stores against the rest? 

©The Zero Waste Chef

Usually, customers prefer convenience and affordability in grocery shopping. They might not be able to experience such zero waste stores due to lack of information, inconvenience in bringing a reusable container, time constraint or non-availability of different food items. But these challenges can be easily tackled once customers start experiencing themselves and understand the underlying intention behind such stores.  

 

Also, there are numerous benefits of shopping at zero waste stores which are as follows:  

  1. Cheaper and fresh food products:   Using refill containers, bottles or bag helps to cut down on additional costs associated with plastic packaging. For instance, Slowood’s foodstuffs are cheaper than packaged supermarket versions, and bulk goods are priced per 10 grams, to cater to shoppers who want small amounts.
  2.  Super convenient: Many shoppers are still under the myth that zero waste stores will be burdensome regarding carrying your own containers. If the mere thought of switching the usual grocery shopping trip for a bring-your-own routine appears troublesome, consumers can start with small changes. It could be as small as carrying reusable shopping totes and skipping plastic produce bags — so no need to buy fancy jars to refill your food items next time.  It’s that simple, and costs a lot less than buying a new one.
  3. Conscious shopping experience:  Shopping at such stores can create a new wave of thoughtful consumers by shifting them away from their current disposable culture. It will inspire more consumers to be conscious and responsible with their purchases and consumption to have a more sustainable lifestyle. Consumers will make informed choices about the quantity of food through pre-planning about the food inventory before leaving the house. It will make sure how much you need and have room for in your reusable bags and containers. Thus it can help in reducing food wastage at the same time.

Conclusion: 

Overall, the concept of zero waste is already adapted by a few small and large retailers. Due to a general rise towards a more environmentally friendly consumption (Global Web Index, 2018), it can be said that the zero waste trend will continue to increase in the future. The result would be the better management of our ecosystem through minimum wastage of water, oil and other natural resources used to grow and deliver food, as well as keeping our oceans free of plastic pollution. 

In addition to that, such a model could be a viable, sustainable and cost effective option for businesses as well as consumers. Zero-waste saves companies money by reducing disposal, labor and energy costs.  Also, such a model has the potential to encourage suppliers to adapt to plastic free delivery to retailers. It can result in less wastage even during production and supply chain. On the other hand, consumers are going to experience conscious shopping in a convenient and affordable manner. It ultimately supports a shift towards a circular economy, where there is no waste involved.  

Though it is still at a nascent stage, we should remember changes take time. And even a small step like skipping plastic bags for a day can have significant impacts.  But the trend must also be scrutinised against risks related to greenwashing- an act of spreading disinformation, largely by corporate interests, in order to present an eco-friendly public image. This way we can take a significant leap towards a sustainable future. 

Sources

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

WEF 

UNEP

CNN

CNBC

Lynn News

The Independent

Ottawa Citizen

South China Morning Post

North Devon Gazette

Global Web Index 

 

‘A lot of times people question whether we even need feminism anymore,’ Tammy Sheldon tells me. But, as she goes on to articulate persuasively, ‘There is simple logic and clear data that indicates that we are a long way from equality in the Netherlands. And that’s not just referring to a pay gap, or to sexual harassment, there’s a whole range of issues.’

It is, indeed, a whole range of issues that Tammy Sheldon, who last year became lead organiser of Women’s March, The Netherlands (WMNL), cares deeply about. Rushing into our meeting apologising for multitasking on her phone, she was reeling from the news of the death of Orlando Boldewijn, a young, gay, black boy from Rotterdam who had been missing for over a week before police were able to locate his body. It doesn’t take long after our interview for WMNL to issue a statement calling on the government and authorities to prioritize LGBTQI safety in The Netherlands, firmly laying bare the fact that LGBTQI individuals face nearly twice the level of violence that heterosexual people face, whilst sending their support to the victim’s family.

I can tell that this recognition, of the multiple and intersecting issues facing women and minorities in the Netherlands, is not something Tammy takes lightly: ‘the simple attitude we come from is that we are always stronger together. We cannot move forward with any kind of tangible change, unless we’re all in this together.’ Of course, it’s very easy to talk the intersectional talk and much harder to walk the walk. As the Women’s March spread internationally from its origins in the U.S. in the wake of Trump’s election last year it has come up against a wealth of, often valid, criticisms. Too white, too rich and too transphobic have been just some of the accusations thrown at its feet.

Tammy in the middle, on the left organiser Cecilia Gomez Engler of Women’s March Barcelona, and on the right indigenous activist Rachel Heaton, A Standing Rock Water Protector, credits: Tammy Sheldon

Refreshingly, these are not issues that Tammy steps around. ‘By definition, if you are in a position to be an activist you automatically have a degree of privilege,’ she acknowledges, ‘You are in an economic situation that allows you to take time to follow an issue as opposed to hold down three jobs, so by definition the Women’s March is coming out of a large base of white, middle-class women. There is no denying it.’ It is because of this that Tammy stresses that that privilege needs to be used effectively, in order to be useful allies to those less able to go out to a march on a Saturday afternoon and wave a witty sign around. A movement filled with performative activism and void of concrete action is clearly not the kind of future she envisions for the Women’s March in this corner of the world.

That is, of course, the strength but also the difficulty of being a part of such a huge, global movement. In order to cultivate a positive legacy for WMNL there is the challenge of weaving through the stray problematic tendencies that tarnish (and can so easily be used to tarnish) the women’s movement. This has to be done whilst pulling together the thousands of threads that have come together to form a hopefully unbreakable social force, and indeed, to use that force to bring about meaningful change in the Netherlands. The fact that Tammy acknowledges (and rejects) the notion that could be seen to arise with some sectors of the Women’s March across the world – that women’s rights were all of a sudden the most important issue on the agenda and that there hadn’t been protests and activist movements worth attending until the disruptive political events of 2017 – is crucial to the success of WMNL going forward.

At the first march in 2017, credits: Tammy Sheldon

Tammy is quick to point out those who have been fighting against inequality long before this most recent wave of popular activism. Poignantly, she notes that before March for Our Lives (the present marches being organised against gun violence in the US) there have been young black women – in the Black Lives Matter movement particularly – fighting against gun violence for years. ‘Not to take away in any way, shape or form what Emma González and the rest of those teenagers have done – they are just awesome heroes in my book, but it does mean that there is this kind of disappearance of people who are already active, and are often doing so with far greater personal risk to their lives, on a day to day basis.’ Tarana Burke, she points out, has been a case in point, having started and campaigned for the ‘Me Too’ movement twelve years before it was catapulted into the mainstream.

It is this kind of recognition that Tammy is promoting in the Netherlands. A manifesto is currently being developed by WMNL in collaboration with multiple activist organisations in the Netherlands, including PROUD (the Dutch Union for Sex Workers), Pink Terrorists (an LGBT organisation promoting the strength of the community) and New Women Impact Hub (who focus on the needs of refugee and migrant women) amongst others. These organisations are jointly working on a document that will be used to bring about change for women and minority communities in the Netherlands. Giving a platform to these voices is one of the most important reasons for this manifesto. ‘It’s not that the world needs another list of demands or manifesto per se,’ Tammy explains, ‘the difference here is people who are not necessarily at the table have a place now to come in.’

And come in they must. The fact that Amsterdam, the largest city in the Netherlands, is without a single abortion clinic for the first time since the 1970s, and the abortion pill is problematically included in the criminal code should be enough to silence any of those who suggest we no longer need feminism. This is not to mention that despite the legality of sex work in the Netherlands propping up the country’s image as one of the most liberal in the world, sex workers are still required to navigate around restricted access to basic healthcare services. There remains a larger income pay gap between men and women in the Netherlands than the EU average. Women and particularly women of colour, migrant women, disabled women, and LGBTQI people are hugely underrepresented in leadership positions in politics and other sectors. The list goes on, and it is clear that the Netherlands cannot rest on its image of progression and liberal politics – something that WMNL clearly has no intention of doing.

But there is an appetite for change, and Tammy is clear in her intention to provide a narrative that is ‘positive, humanistic, inclusive and something other than the fear and the hate that is being pushed by the right.’ There is a huge energy being thrown towards the feminist movement across the world and in the Netherlands, and as Tammy declares, ‘that energy is going to be turned into fuel.’

A big food problem!

Food! It’s all about food, since the evolution of men it’s always been about survival, and one of the most important parts of survival is food. This makes food one of the most important parts of our lives, so it becomes funny or rather ironic that about one third of the food produced in the entire world is thrown away, before it could even be consumed (FAO, 2017) . It amounts to about 95-115 kilos of food, which is thrown away per capita, annually (FAO, 2017). This identifies that on average, in developed countries, more than $680 billion worth of  waste is tossed. This means tons of perfectly edible and usable food are thrown away for no reason.

© Our Green Earth

Now again, I don’t want you to be scared away by big facts, but did you know that the average European spends around 2 hours and 8 minutes daily on food prep and cleanup, which does not include the time spent on both thinking about and shopping for the food that we prepare and eat (Barlow, 2011). In developed countries we food shop on average for about 30 minutes a day. Similarly,  we spend 40 to 45 minutes a day simply thinking about food (Barlow, 2011). Obviously, these statistics vary by country and depend on certain factors such as income and food security, which is why the statistics are slightly different in developing countries, where for example, the proportion on income spent on food daily is much higher because incomes are smaller. Regardless of the variations in statistics, most of the world in one way or another spends at least a couple hours on food activities every day, which in a lifetime easily adds up to a few years spent entirely on food. This just points out how much time we spend on food, both in terms of energy and money. So this begs the question, why are we so careless with our food habits? Why are we willing to invest so much time and money into food, which on the other hand results in environmental contamination and increased levels of food insecurity. Why do we spend so much on food that gets wasted, while millions of people can’t afford to have proper meals on a daily basis. It runs against any and all logic that we are spending extra time and money on food, while we can save both our time, money and reallocate extra food resources to those in need, by minimizing food waste from the beginning.

Not only should we be reducing food waste in our own homes and cooking habits, we should be reducing food waste at its source, meaning in farms and factories. There is no better way to reduce food waste than being completely aware of where your food comes from. The consumerist and capitalist structure that has ironically consumed all of our food habits has lead to our complete separation and removal from the food growing process. This has come to a point where some kids are unaware of how vegetables grow or what some vegetables even are. Therefore, how can we make an impact in reducing food waste if we ourselves are unaware of what it is we are really eating.  For this reason alone, it is crucial to bring the said food process back to the people. We must make their food choices a possibility, while at the same time allowing their food choices to remain relevant and impactful for both food security and the environment.

What can we do locally and sustainably?

This is where sustainable, informed, approachable farming comes into the bigger picture. Farms and food production factories that are transparent about their food process, and that allow their customers to be a part of the food system, allow food waste to become a concern which they and their customers can act on.  If people understand the process and the money it takes to grow their food, they will become more conscious with the way they treat and eat their food.

TIME © Andrea Wyner

Luckily today, there are many people out there trying to not only, connect individuals to their food, but also make them aware of how sustainable food production works, and what can be done about it. This is done through a now widening approach called ‘farm to table’ where restaurants, shops, schools and individuals attempt to make a direct approach to acquiring their food. What this means is that they try to acquire food through direct links with people who produce this food, which in turn allows them to know if this food is grown locally and organically. However most unfortunately, as any ‘fad’ in our fast paced and ever changing world, the ‘fad’ of the ‘farm to table’ approach seems to have at some point been lost in translation. The term quickly became tarnished,  rather than actually standing for something transparent and ethical. The term is quickly becoming a label or competition prize  in the harsh and competitive restaurateur/fast food world.  Where chefs and restaurants compete for the label without the same integrity of what it used to once mean. Rather than delving into this ‘farm to table’ approach and organically and ethically sourcing their ingredients, many restaurants and fast food chains use the term lightly, as a so called medal for their mediocre attempts to be ‘on trend’. That is of course not to say that there are people out there in the culinary world that do not respect the integrity of this notion, because clearly, there are. But recently, it is more commonly becoming a caricature of what it once meant, as many other ‘fads’ have and continue to do. They become used and applied in many questionable and inauthentic ways. As the word “sustainability” is often used as a superficial guise and marketing technique for non Eco-friendly operations, so is the term ‘farm to table’.

TravelandLeisure © Erika Plummern.

However, this does not mean all hope is lost for what used to be an inspired approach, because far away from the hubs of fancy restaurants and big chains, there are still people, your average Joes’, who want to acquire that farm to table approach for themselves. Equally, there are farms and food producers who are willing to provide that service for people. Therefore, the way we grow food needs to change, it needs to become more biologically and environmentally sensitive. Already, people are opening the doors of their farms and orchards, where for a small price anyone can come in and pick however much produce they like right off the plants. This is just one simple way of doing things in a more transparent and open way, where production and consumption are linked at a sensible stage in the process. As Sustainable Table points out, bringing food production back to local levels is crucial. Having people invest in Farmers Markets, Community Supported Agriculture and things like ‘Pick Your Own’ farms. Let people invest in the way they want their food to be grown. Accessible and affordable alternatives cannot be achieved without the right incentives and the right support. The consumerist chains sometimes hold a monopoly on food processes which makes it difficult for people’s food actions to have any resonance in reducing food waste, which is why local solutions need to be supported.

This doesn’t only apply to the developed world. Resources and technologies must be provided and supported in the developing world for people to actively and successfully grow their own produce. The IIED promotes bringing sustainable agriculture to poorer nations by providing immediate benefits, technologies, carrying out research and providing policy support and coherence to local farmers (IIED, 2015). People have incentive, we have seen this through surging amounts of organizations and sustainable stores that focus on reducing food waste and bringing food chains closer to its consumers. Recently, The Farm Project (2017) was started by Zooey Deschanel a well known public figure in the US, where she is attempting to use her platform to make an impact on bringing people closer to their food sources. This shows that the right platform and the correct support system can have an impact on the way individuals act and decide on food waste issues.  Similarly, food factories can also have a positive way of looking at food and decreasing waste which will immediately impact their customers, because they will reconsider their actions when purchasing these products. For example companies like, Toast Ale in the UK which is a company that acquires left over bread from restaurants and then uses it to brew its ale. There is also ReGrained who use left over grains from craft beer production to make protein bars, or Misfit Juicery in DC, which creates beautiful juices from discarded or misshapen fruits which are discarded by most supermarkets (Grover, 2017).

© Puntopia

These few examples prove that people are willing to make an effort but they need the incentive from our governing bodies to make a sizable dent in the inefficient, highly wasteful and intoxicated food supply monster. As Tom Hunt, a food waste activist and chef points out: “We need to re-populate the countryside and change the way farming is done. My main focus would be to change the subsidy structure: make it financially viable for people moving out of cities to create their own regenerative, agro-ecological farms that encourage biodiversity”(Hughes, 2017). If actions are not made, this can and will have numerous consequences both in terms of food security and environmental stability, through issues like biodiversity loss or environmental catastrophes and climatic changes. Sustainability in food is not a wild and unattainable goal, as Hunt points out, food and food waste are “tangible” problems, meaning a real difference can and should be made. So next time you are out there buying and preparing food, think about where it came from, how it was made and who it is harming in the process, and remember just because food is sustainable or  ugly does not mean it is bad or it is going to cost you more. Look up organizations such as Taste Before You Waste and notice people out there are trying to make a difference in how food is seen and approached, and most of all that they are trying to make it cheap and accessible to all. Open your eyes and don’t spend those two hours of your day on generating food waste, but rather spend them fighting it. Make a stand with your food choices and make those few hours of your day worthwhile for yourself, other people and our planet.

Sources:

FAO

The Independent

Sustainable Table

IIED

Forbes

Mother Nature Network

Photo: Behance © Domenico Liberti

The issue of food waste is a global phenomenon that affects every segment of the population, be it low, middle or high income families. Some of these individuals face harsher and more difficult truths about food, such as an extreme scarcity of secure access to food, while others face problems of over-consumption and generating excess waste. However, increasing amounts of food waste which could otherwise be quality food, are becoming a large problem. Both waste and food waste are enormous problems, both of which require immediate attention, to both, minimise environmental damage, and improve the livelihoods of millions of people that have no secure access to food.

    The unequivocal food waste issue is an issue that is bigger than the individuals and conglomerates who produce it. Surely, the issue of food waste is rooted in the world’s inefficient and immense food system, which indeed, goes beyond your supermarkets, your refrigerator and your trashcan. The system begins at food production and ends at generating excess amounts of food waste and environmental contamination. Food waste is not only a waste of otherwise appropriate, healthy and consumable food, but it also affects the environments in which it is discarded. In many parts of the world, there are patterns of overconsumption while in others of clear underconsumption. This uneven and inefficient divide of the world’s food supply posits one of the numerous problems that we face: increasing amounts of food waste. Food production requires enormous amounts of land, water and energy to be produced, this in particular refers to meat production, which incidentally already in the first stage of the process creates tremendous amounts of waste and contamination. This initial contamination and waste refers to loss of land as a result of deforestation, water contamination due to the use of chemicals and fertilizers, the emission of GHGs from energy used, and many other forms of contamination. The second issue faced in food production becomes that much of this food which is produced, gets lost before even reaching its consumers, meaning that food waste is an issue both at the beginning and end of the said ‘food cycle’.

    Many news and articles throw around numbers and facts which can over or under inflate the issue, confuse readers and make dramatic statements. This can oftentimes be unnecessary as an overabundance and overuse of abstract numbers and statements can achieve the opposite effect than is desired. Instead of creating clarity these complex facts take it away. This being said, some facts are necessary. These are clear and understandable facts which pinpoint the gravity of the issue. Similarly, they are necessary to identify that changes in the industry and consumer behaviour are necessary.

    Firstly, The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that 1.3 Billion tonnes of food are lost and wasted each year (UNFAO, 2017). This number makes up 1/3 of the global food production that is intended for human consumption (FAO, 2017). Secondly, the carbon footprint of the said food waste is estimated to be a release of 3.3 billions of tonnes of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (FAO, 2017). Thirdly, the amount of water that is lost due to food waste is 230km3 which is the equivalent of Russia’s fourth biggest river Volga (FAO, 2017). Fourth, 1,4 billion hectares or 28% of the world’s agricultural land is used to produce food that ends up being wasted (FAO, 2017). Now, these are only four of the big, hard hitting facts directly linked to food waste. And as you can imagine the list goes on and on. Food waste impacts the loss of biodiversity, it impacts local and small farming businesses, it impacts vulnerable farmers and low income populations. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation also points out that the annual economic and financial losses due to food waste equal up to $750 billion (FAO, 2017). These are big facts and big problems, but here is a more interesting fact; individuals can make a difference. Small households can make a difference in reducing those numbers, in reducing food waste and improving livelihoods. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation also points out that home composting can divert about 150 kilos of food waste annually for local collection authorities, meaning our actions can make a difference (FAO, 2017). Do not let the facts intimidate you, because any action is a positive action. There are many things we as individuals can do, wherever we are and whatever our situation is, regardless of the country or neighbourhood we live in. Once we have done individual actions we can become valuable members of community actions through different initiatives and organisations such as Taste Before You Waste. What follows is a list of only a few of hundreds of small actions we can accomplish as individuals:

Individual Actions

  •  Starting small, focus on one issue where you want to make a difference, for example, limit your portion sizes or share dishes with other people to reduce leftovers.
  • Buy all vegetables, don’t be intimidated by an apple that is not perfectly round or shiny, because it is the exact same fruit, if merely of a slightly different shape.
  • Make shopping lists of things that you know are essential and that you are certain you will use. Always use up all your ingredients before shopping for new ones.
  • Be smart in using your fridge, some things can have a much longer life span in your freezer, while others can be kept at temperatures between 1-5 degrees Celsius to keep fresh the longest. Don’t stockpile perishable ingredients in your fridge and pantry, so you are always aware of what you have.
  • Be creative in your cooking habits, look up recipes that allow you to use all of your leftover fruits and vegetables.
  • Understand the meaning of sell by and use by dates. They are merely indications. For example, use by dates mean that the food is safe to be eaten until said date, whereas best before means it is at it’s very best before said date but can still be consumed afterwards. Be reasonable, check the items using your own senses before chucking them out as they still may be completely safe for consumption even if the use by date is expired.
  • Recycle, many foods come in plastic, paper and glass packaging. Even though its not directly food waste, the disposal of this packaging still generates waste, so put an effort into trying to recycles as many materials as possible, including safely composting food.
  • Other ways of ensuring food is not wasted is simply by giving it away or donating it. If it will become waste anyways, you may as well give it to someone who could use the help.
  • If you can afford it, buy organic and bio foods as they will be more likely to be pesticide and chemical free which has a large impact on pollution created in the food chain.
  • And always remember, food actions and decisions have short and long term consequences, and simple actions can help minimise them. Many of these food conservation techniques can also help you save money, because the more use you make out of a certain food the less money you will spend on groceries.

Community Actions

Community actions are aplenty. Most cities and towns have many organisations devoted to trying to make an impact in reducing food waste and helping those in need. However, if you are living in an area that does not have established organisations, you can start local action, not by creating an organisation of your own, but simply by leading easy activities, such as a joint composting site or community garden and kitchen. For instance food co-ops are a great way to eat sustainably while reducing food waste. Most European countries have numerous food waste organisations such as:

  •             Taste Before you Waste – Amsterdam, Bussum, Kingston, Utrecht
  •             Kromkommer – The Netherlands
  •             Plan Zheroes – London
  •             Copia – California
  •             Food Cloud – Dublin
  •             Waste2taste – Finland
  •             Food Recovery Network – United States
  •             This is Rubbish – UK
  •             The Zero Waste Lab – Amsterdam
  •             Landbouwbelang – Maastricht
  •             Sphinxpark – Maastricht
  •             Landhuis – Maastricht
  •             Robin Hood Army – India

These are a few of many existing initiatives and organisations whose aim is centred around conserving food that would otherwise become waste and in one way or another redistributing it within communities and to those who are in need. Other organisations include stores which provide organic foods and waste free food. This includes zero waste stores whose aim is to sell food in bulk without plastic packaging, meaning people come into these stores with their own containers and purchase food using these containers to minimise plastic, paper and food waste from oversized packages. What is becoming striking even after a preliminary search is that organisations are aplenty and they come in all shapes and sizes. People have the will to make a change and to participate, therefore we must not allow big facts and large problems to deter us from making small, intelligent and efficient solutions, which do make a difference in reducing both local and global waste and their consequences. Consumers are those with the power to make change and there is no better way to start than to act individually and locally. The answer seems to be easy, as it lies behind every corner. All you have to do is search up local activities and initiatives that deal with food waste. They are always looking for volunteers and help. No one will turn away a willing helping hand. So get started and help yourself, help your community and help your planet by paying attention and getting involved, the rewards will be as scrumptious as the food you save and eat.

Source:

http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/196402/icode/

http://www.fao.org/zhc/detail-events/en/c/889172/

(c) Roel van Bakkum & Iris Hesse

Some fruits and vegetables should not be stored next to each other because they influence each other’s ripening process. What causes the fast ripening? Who influences whom? Which fruits and veggies are bad neighbours? Find it out in this week’s blogpost. If you store your products advisedly, they will last longer. Subsequently you won’t have to discard food because it went bad faster than you expected. Read, think, and fight food waste:

What causes the fast ripening? – Ethylene

Ethylene is a naturally occurring gas which is odourless, and colourless. Some fruit produce this gas during their ripening process, therefore it is also called a ripening hormone. Its main effect is the softening of fruits and vegetables. Ethylene makes your bananas sweet and your peaches smell deliciously. On the other hand it can cause plants to die. This is due to the fact that ethylene decreases the plant’s chlorophyll. What effect occurs is depending on the condition and characteristics of the plant. In short: For some organism the gas might be harmful, for others beneficial. Its advantage of stimulating the ripening process is commercially used. Tomatoes, pears, and bananas are usually harvested before they are ripe. Under controlled temperature conditions, certain humidity levels and ethylene they can be ripened. This means that they ripe in the same pace which results in an uniform appearance.

Which fruits and veggies produce large quantities of ethylene?

If you keep those fruits close to other fruits and veggies, they will ripen faster. You can use that knowledge if you want to stimulate the ripening process of unripe fruits. Keep in mind: Storing fruits and veggies that produce high quantities of ethylene in the fridge before they are ripe might lead to a loss of taste. Be especially careful with avocados, bananas, and tomatoes. They won’t develop their full taste under cool fridge conditions. That would be a shame!

Which fruits and veggies produce small quantities of ethylene?

You can store these fruits and vegetables close to each other. They won’t influence each other’s ripening process because they do not produce a lot of the ripening hormone.

Bad Neighbours are fruits and:


Be aware of what type of fruit causes others to ripen quicker. Also take a look on our article about how to keep fruits and veggies longer. Last remark on food storage: Separate potatoes and onions! Potatoes sprout quicker if onions are kept close. However, feel free to put apples and potatoes next to each other. Apples slow down the sprouting of potatoes. If you keep this in mind, you will be delighted by their long life and enjoy perfectly edible fruits and veggies for a long time. Tell your family and friends! Help us to spread awareness about unnecessary food waste.

For more detailed information on the fruit ripening gas ethylene click here.

Bar chart for EU-28 member states that submitted data for calculations of food waste in households

FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimizing Waste Prevention Strategies) is a project funded by the European Commission which ended in July 2016. The aim was to make food waste monitoring all over the EU-28 comparable, to gather knowledge about how to reduce discarded food and to build a framework on Food Waste policy for the EU-27. To accomplish their goals, FUSIONS collected data about discarded food in different sectors in the EU between 2012 and 2016. Member states provided the most information about wasted food in households; therefore this sector will be topic of this blog post. I read through their research paper called “Estimates of European food waste levels” and gathered the most important findings about this pressing issue in European households.

Data gaps

First of all: Not all EU-28 countries provided data about their food waste. To fill the data gaps, mean levels of food waste were calculated on the basis of the countries that have supplied data. In the next step the averages were multiplied by the population of each country.  This is a legit measure if samples, in this case the countries which provided data, are proven not to be representative for the population which are in this case the EU-28 member states. However this procedure is questionable mainly due to the fact that higher income countries are not comparable to lower income countries. These countries might differ enormously in regard to their spending capacity and subsequently in their disposal of food. Results are therefore only estimates and never true values. The title of the research paper gave this fact away anyway. Nevertheless it is important to point it out again because the findings should be assessed critically.

Available data

19 out of 28 countries made data available about food waste in households. Eleven of them submitted data about generated food waste within the municipal waste stream. FUSIONS acknowledge data from municipalities to be more reliable in comparison to mere estimates of food waste streams. Therefore, the approximations for the EU‑28 member states were derived from those eleven countries. The data submitted by the countries is representative for the whole country and is based on current findings.

Defining food waste

There exists no European framework that defines food waste. FUSIONS defined food waste as food which is edible as well as thrown away and food which could not be consumed anymore and was discarded. The research paper highlights this differentiation between these two in all their calculations.

Costs of food waste

To calculate the cost of edible and inedible food waste in households, FUSIONS used a study from the UK as a basis. The prices were converted from Pounds to Euro. Relative price differences between the UK and the EU were taken into account and adjusted. The result shows that European household waste 46.5 million tonnes of food worth 98 billion Euros on average per year. According to the research paper, every person produces 92 kilogram food waste. Alarming is that 60 % of this food could still be consumed. Taking into consideration that the numbers are only indications, they are still too high. This amount of food waste is of course also expensive. One tonne of edible food waste is estimated to cost around 3.529 Euro.

Disposing edible veggies, fruits, and other goodies is the same as literally throwing away money. 3.529 Euro could have been spent so much better. 706 people could have eaten at our Wasteless Wednesday Dinner based on suggested five Euro donations. There we actively fight food waste together. You want to help us? Joins us next Wednesday!

 

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