We live in abundance. We eat what we want and when we want. The shelves in the supermarkets are always full, almost all food is available anytime and anywhere. What spoils, hasexpired, or remains ends up in the garbage – an average of 55 kg of food per person per year (according to a study published in 2018 by the Society for Consumer Research). A new calculation by the University of Stuttgart even comes to 85.2 kg. About half of this would be avoidable.
Foodwaste is an ecological, economic and ethical problem that we should take action against as soon as possible. All of us who seem to have forgotten that food is one of the most important and valuable resources of our lives.
Million tons of food for the ton
According to estimates by the WWF (2018), up to 18 million tons of discarded food are generated by food waste in Germany. The loss is along the entire value chain, from production to the end user.
A study by the University of Stuttgart in 2012 speaks of around 12 million tonnes per year, but this does not include food losses from agriculture. And the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) currently expects 11 million tons of food waste annually.
The figures show that little has changed in recent years. Far too many edible foods still end up in waste. We are often unaware of the extent of food waste, and about a quarter of Germans do not even know the problem as such (Source: Statista.
We are directly responsible for most of the food waste, indirectly also for food waste in the catering and retail sectors: according to the BMEL, around 17 percent are each caused by industry and large consumers, and around 61 percent by private households.
More than half are avoidable food waste
Of course, you don’t have to eat shells of potatoes, bananas or eggs in the future, just so that less food ends up in the garbage. Such waste is unavoidable because it is not suitable for human consumption.
But the apple that rots on the tree (or in your fruit bowl), the cucumber that is sorted out as “too small,” the bread that gets mouldy or hard because you’ve bought too much, and the yoghurt that someone throws away just because it’s expired – even though it’s long since edible: all of this is avoidable food waste and makes up a big chunk of food loss.
Causes of food waste in Germany
The main reason for our far too wasteful handling of food is probably that we can “afford” it. Food is still too cheap by comparison, because it accounts for just under one sixth of our expenditure. Accordingly, food is bought and thrown away when it is not eaten.
At the same time, as consumers, we can also place high aesthetic and qualitative demands on the goods we want to buy. What is too big, too small, too crooked or not flawless in the case of fruit and vegetables is processed at best into juices or salads, in the worst case it gets directly from the field into the garbage – foodwaste in its purest form.
At the same time, thanks to the abundance of food available, we expect consumers to have full shelves, a wide selection and as fresh a selection as possible, and as fresh as possible, thanks to the abundance of food. This forces overproduction, which logically causes food loss. What cannot be sold often comes into the bin, we should be aware of that. Incidentally, this applies not only to supermarkets and discounters, but also to gastronomy and throughout the supply chain.
What does the policy against foodwaste do?
Can we meet the United Nations' demands to reduce food waste to half by 2030? Well, on the one hand, it is the duty of politicians to take appropriate measures to curb food waste along the value chain. Three countries in Europe are already taking action with a law against food waste in supermarkets: the Czech Republic, France and Italy – their strategies differ.
The Czech Government has obliged the trade, under the threat of fines, to donate unsaleable items to tables or other social institutions after closing time. However, this does not apply to expired food.
In France, the rules are even stricter: there, traders must either produce all unsold and unsaleable food for charity – or make it available to agriculture as compost or animal feed.
In Italy, on the other hand, there is a different course: instead of imposing sanctions, it creates positive incentives such as tax breaks.
According to one of these models, a law could also be introduced in Germany. But the current government does not seem to be considering any tough bans: Federal Food Minister Julia Klöckner is instead relying on a national “strategy to reduce food waste” that should include states, municipalities, business, science and consumers.
Networking of the actors, “round tables” and consumer awareness – much of this does not yet sound too concrete. The “Too good for the ton!” initiative has already been launched, which aims to inform and increase food appreciation. The key platform of the strategy will publish the target agreements, actions and progress that have been developed this year.
What can consumers do about food waste?
However, the problem of food waste is far from being solved if the legislator alone takes action. We must take our own noses and also make our contribution: by ensuring that food does not become unsaleable in the first place and by making a creative effort to produce less food waste.
Here are a few tips that you can implement yourself immediately:
Check your foods: “At least durable until”, not “guaranteed toxic”. Most foods are edible well beyond their best-before date, some almost never spoil. We must learn to recognise such products and then consume them.
Store your food properly: Fresh foods such as salad and dairy products in the fridge, potatoes and onions in a dark place – proper storage is a key factor in keeping our food going for a long time. And so don’t end up in the trash.
Whistle on the aesthetics: Just because a carrot is crooked, it tastes no worse than its just grown sister next to it. It is usually sorted out anyway. This will only change if we pay less attention to a flawless look when it comes to fruit and vegetables. And the consumer’s desire is having an effect: even the first discounters, such as Aldi and Penny, are now selling crooked vegetables. Please more of it!
Buy in a targeted way: Fruit and vegetables account for the lion’s share of wasted foods at 34 percent. So it’s worth better planning what we want to eat and when. Yes, the large pack is cheaper, but do you really eat ten kilos of potatoes in the next few days or are it more like two? And instead of reaching for the big bag of carrots, you could also think about how many you actually need to cook – and pack a few loose carrots.
Don’t be so picky: not everything always has to be available – 14 percent of food losses are accounted for by baked goods. Either because too much was bought, or because we also want to have our favourite bread on the shelf just before the store closes. Do we really need that?
Use your leftovers: Instead of being in the garbage bin, leftovers end up in the cooking pot. Our grandparents lived it before us, and you should imitate it much more often – there are even own cookbooks for it!
Keep food durable: You can freeze, boil or ferment many fruits and vegetables when they are seasoned, instead of letting overproduction rot in the fields.
Use food sharing and apps: Become an active food savior by registering on the volunteer platform foodsharing.de, for example. There you can pass on leftover food – or even replenish your supplies from the digital food baskets. The Too Good To Go app also helps to curb food waste: here, gastronomic establishments set up leftover food, which you can then buy cheaply.