Here are a few facts:
- 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year in the world according to UN data. This is about 1/3 of the food produced.
- 88 million tons of food is wasted annually in EU countries. The European Commission estimates that the costs resulting from this phenomenon amount to approx. 143 billion euros. This is equivalent to about 0.85% of EU GDP.
- 9 million tons of food per year – is wasted annually in Poland, of which approx. 6.6 million tons are wasted during the production stage.
- 2 million tons of food per year are wasted on Polish households. A statistical Pole throws about 52 kg of food each year. The most food is wasted by young, educated people, who work and live in big cities, a consequence of the fast-paced urban lifestyle.
- Poland occupies 5th place in the EU in terms of the number of wasted food. Only the British, Germans, French and Dutch are ranked ahead of Poles.
- 963 million people in the world starve. Every 5 seconds a child dies of starvation.
The problem of food waste is quite complex and can be observed in five main junctures:
- Production – occurs when food is not collected and left in the field, when it is attacked by pests or stored improperly;
- Harvesting – occurs after the harvest if this process has been carried out ineffectively
- Product packaging and transport – losses due to improper storage or damage during transportation;
- Distribution and sales – wasting food in stores;
- Consumption in homes and catering – losses caused by consumers, e.g. by throwing food from our refrigerators, leaving meals unfinished in restaurants, etc.
Food loss and legal regulations
Public authorities have also recognised this problem, and several initiatives are underway in terms of legislation to improve the situation.
Since 2013 in Poland, restaurants, cafes, shops, wholesalers and supermarkets can distribute food to public benefit organizations and receive VAT exemptions. Before 2013, the regulations were quite different. As an example, Mr. Waldemar Gronowski, a baker from Legnica in Poland, donated excess bread from his bakery to a parish canteen until the court ruled that in this way he had underreported his income and avoided paying taxes. The court ruling imposed a fine of over 115,000 zloty (around $30,000).
Currently, regulations are being drafted that would require shops to donate unsold food to non-profit organizations. Otherwise, shops would incur a penalty of 10 cents per kilogram of wasted food (this would apply to shops with a surface area of more than 250 m2).
Work to enact more efficient food waste legislation is also underway in the European Commission. MEPs are aiming to reduce the scale of food waste by 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030.
It’s also worth mentioning the activity of Food Banks (http://bankizywnosci.pl), which have been operating in Poland for 20 years. Food Bank accept food that still has nutritional value, but cannot be sold (e.g. because of faulty packaging or the expiry date). Food Banks then deliver this food to selected organizations such as community centres, hospices, etc. In 2015, Food Banks donated 146,000 tonnes of food to the needy. This number is impressive, but compared to 9 million tons of food wasted per year in Poland, it is clear that there is still a lot of room for improvement.
How can we reduce food waste?
Each of us can contribute to reducing the amount of food that is thrown away. Here are some simple steps you can take to address the problem of food waste:
- Check the condition of your refrigerator and shelves regularly – pay close attention to expiration dates.
- Recognise the difference between the “use by date” and “best before date”. The first determines the cut-off date, after which you should not consume the product. On the other hand, the “best before date” label marks the date when the product’s properties begin to deteriorate (most often rice, pasta, etc.). This does not mean, however, that the product is unfit for consumption. After this date, the manufacturer cannot guarantee that the product will be as fresh, but it may still be fit for consumption.
- Only serve yourself as much food as you can eat – this seems obvious, but it isn’t for everyone.
- 1. When you cannot finish your meal at a restaurant, ask for a “doggy bag”. Some restaurants may not have the necessary packaging, but you can always carry it with you.
- 1. Plan your shopping in accordance with the meals you’ll be eating in the next few days and buy only what you need. Take a shopping list with you so you won’t be tempted to add anything to your shopping cart, even if it’s on sale or you’re hungry.
- 1. Do less shopping, but more often. If you buy a large amount every 2 weeks, the risk of wasting food is higher (even with a good plan) than when shop regularly every 2 days.
- 1. Read the rules for proper product storage to keep food fresh as long as possible. Remember, for example, that the temperature in different parts of the refrigerator varies.
Author: Marcin Tischner