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Report urges broader focus beyond household food waste

Monday 1 Jul 24 10:45am

Media release | The Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor (PMCSA), Dame Juliet Gerrard, has issued 27 recommendations to the government to reduce the billions of dollars of food wasted each year in New Zealand.

The recommendations were released to more than 50 large food businesses, including Fonterra, Woolworths NZ, Goodman Fielder, Foodstuffs and Nestlé’ at an event hosted by New Zealand Food Waste Champions (NZFWC), the organisation leading food waste action in Aotearoa.


Globally, 40% of food produced is never eaten, and food waste accounts for at least 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.


The PMCSA says the recommendations are a call to action and aim to shift New Zealand towards a zero-waste economy by reducing the economic, environmental and social impacts of food waste.


“Reducing food loss and waste is a win-win-win. It helps reduce the cost of living, feeds hungry people, reduces methane emissions from landfilled food waste, and prevents all the resources used in growing and producing food from being wasted, along with their emissions, a major driver of climate change.”


She says we need to stop thinking about causes and solutions to food waste in silos, such as waste that happens in the home or loss that happens on farm.


“A central theme of our recommendations is the importance of bringing a systems-wide lens to this issue. Food loss and waste happen at all stages of the food supply chain, from paddock to plate, and the solutions have to be systems wide as well. Consumers have an important role to play, but more needs to be done to understand how decisions across the wider supply chain influence food waste at all stages.”


The recommendations delivered to the Government include the need for a national food loss and waste strategic action plan, a reduction target, and structures and systems to empower stakeholders to act on them; mechanisms for ensuring more New Zealand-specific reliable and comprehensive food waste data; better strategies aimed at preventing food loss at source; and enabling conditions that promote food rescue and upcycling to ensure edible food is never treated as waste.


Kaitlin Dawson, the Executive Director of NZFWC, welcomes the recommendations and says the solutions to food waste are accessible and actionable, and agrees that a more strategic and coordinated approach is needed.


“As a country, we have many valuable organisations and initiatives in food waste reduction, but we lack coordination and an overarching strategy to ensure we are all pulling in the same direction. These recommendations will help the government and industry understand the causes of food waste in our country and the best solutions available for addressing it.”


She also emphasised the need to widen the scope of food waste discussions from household waste to better capture how decisions made at one part of the supply chain influence waste at another.


Dawson cites food packaging decisions as an example. “Moving to more sustainable packaging solutions is important, but what if that packaging means the food inside has a shorter shelf-life, which leads to higher levels of waste with greater levels of emissions?”


Dawson says that industry has the opportunity to take a leading role in acting on the recommendations outlined by the PMCSA and that cross-sector collaboration is key.


“Solving these issues is complex, and there are trade-offs. We need industry and the wider sector, including solution providers, government, and the community to be working together to identify the gaps and opportunities and strive towards common goals.”


According to Dawson, the industry is starting to embrace the opportunities inherent in food waste. The Kai Commitment program, an initiative of NZFWC partly funded through the Ministry for the Environment’s Climate Emergency Response Fund, works with large food businesses to reduce food waste and associated emissions within their own operations and across their wider supply chain. Current signatories include some of New Zealand’s largest food businesses: Fonterra, Woolworths, Goodman Fielder, Foodstuffs, Silver Fern Farms, Nestlé, George Weston Foods, and AS Wilcox.


“We’re seeing some of New Zealand’s largest businesses showing how to build food waste reduction into sustainability, productivity, and team engagement plans and realising the social, environmental, and economic benefits. It’s exciting.”


Fonterra and Foodstuffs are both committed to ensuring surplus products goes to feeding communities through a range of food rescue programs. Foodstuffs has included food rescue targets as a Key Performance Indicator for stores which created an effective governance culture around food waste, likewise, Fonterra is committed to ensuring surplus product goes to communities where it's needed the most through its partnership with the New Zealand Food Network.


Likewise, Woolworths New Zealand includes food waste reduction in their overall sustainability targets and has introduced a range of initiatives throughout their business to reduce food going to landfill, including introducing Resource Recovery Specialists across their more than 1 85-store network who upskill teams in reducing food waste and other sustainability initiatives as part of their zero-food waste to landfill target.


Nestlé’s ‘Cook for Life, Ka Tunu Ka Ora’ programme in schools is focused on teaching young people about valuing food and reducing food waste and one of New Zealand’s largest bread producers, Goodman Fielder, has undertaken a Loaf Optimisation project to understand the causes of waste across the supply chain and implemented actions to reduce waste.


According to Dawson, the recommendations from the PMCSA are an important step in New Zealand’s food waste journey, and her organisation is committed to continuing to work with the government and industry to translate the recommendations into action.


“New Zealand produces some of the finest food in the world, and no one at any stage wants to see it go to waste. This is a solvable issue that can be acted on now.”


Read the summary report of all four reports on food waste from the OPMCSA.


Read the latest report from the OPMCSA here on the prevention of food waste.


Key food waste statistics:

  • 40% of food produced globally is wasted (WWF, 2021).
  • Around 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 4% of New Zealand’s emissions come from food produced but wasted. (MFE, 2023)
  • In New Zealand at a household level alone, it is estimated that $3.2billion of food is wasted every year, the equivalent of $1510 per household. (Rabobank food waste survey 2023)
  • One in five New Zealand children grow up in houses that experience food insecurity. (MOH, 2016)

Food waste and climate change

  • Reducing food waste was the third most important action a country could take to halt global warming. (Project Drawdown, 2023)
  • The value in reducing food waste can be seen not only in emissions reduction but also cost savings for businesses. A study by the Global Champions of 12.3 showed that for every $1 investment in food waste reduction, there can be a return of $14. *(Global Champions of 12.3, 2017)
  • Reducing food waste in landfills can significantly reduce methane, a GHG which is 28 times more potent than C02.(IPCC 2013)
  • The emissions from global food waste and loss are four times as much as those produced by the aviation industry. (WRI 2015)


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