22 Dec 2011

Written by

Joan Marc Simon

Progress towards Zero Food Waste in the EU

Waste Policy

Almost 50% of edible and healthy food gets wasted in EU households and supermarkets each year while 79 million EU citizens –out of 500 million Europeans- live beneath the poverty line and 16 million depend on food aid from charitable institutions.

Food waste is many times a waste; it is a waste of resources and money, it is a waste that creates methane if landfilled and CO2 if incinerated, it is a waste when in the world one child is dying of hunger every 5 seconds … The current food wastage in Europe does highlight the contradictions of the world we live in but it also underlines the need for a Zero Waste policy, not only in the food sector but also in other sectors.

Indeed, the current economic crisis is keeping 23 million Europeans out of the job market whereas 60% of all municipal waste in the EU is landfilled or incinerated. The employment opportunities in the design, production, repairing, reusing, collection, recycling and composting sector are very substantial if only we change the waste market in order to divert waste from incinerators and landfills.

But these are very convenient dates to tackle food waste because of the holiday season that involves lots of investment in food and a good deal of cooking at home. According to WRAP every British family is wasting 60 euros a month in food that will not be eaten.

It is because of this wastage that the EU and some member states are taking measures to try to reduce this waste.

The EU is showing the will to end with this wastage; the European Commission has proposed an indicative milestone of a 50 per cent food waste reduction by 2020 and the commissioner Janez Potocnik is vocal about the moral, economic and environmental responsibility to change the current practices.

In this line the European Parliament passed a resolution in which:
– it asks for more education to avoid excessive waste,
– it demands proper labelling and packaging of food products to show the date until which the product may be consumed –note that the label “sell-by-date” or “best before” refer to quality standards but don’t mean that the item is not edible after the date– ,
– it promotes that public institutions should favour responsible caterers that use local produce and give away or redistribute leftover food to poorer people or food banks free of charge rather than disposing of it,
– it encourages setting up systems such as the “Last Minute Market” to make sure that leftovers or non-eaten food can be used to feed people in need.

The European Commission is also addressing consumers on the issue of food waste in a recently launched campaign on resource efficiency called ‘generation awake’ . It gives tips on making the right choices when we buy and consume – including foodstuffs.

To sum up, waste prevention is paramount and it makes lots of sense that the EU is gearing up in this issue especially in the current days of growing resources scarcity. However, let’s not forget that these days most food discards in Europe still end up landfilled or incinerated causing lots of harmful emissions. Moreover, to this date the EU doesn’t require the separate collection of organics which means that the use of food scraps as soil improver after compost is not yet happening at considerable scale. Let’s not forget that organic waste is the biggest waste stream -30 to 50%- and as such it continues to be the pending issue in EU waste legislation.

Any Zero Waste strategy focuses in the importance to work at the front end to reduce food wastage and at the back end to ensure that organics are composted and not landfilled.

The European Commission has proposed an indicative milestone of a 50 per cent food waste reduction by 2020.