As New Zealand faces a growing cost of living crisis and surging food prices, the issue of food loss and waste takes on a new level of significance. International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, observed on September 29, is a critical reminder that addressing this problem is not only about saving money but also about transforming our food systems in times of economic uncertainty.
In recent times, New Zealanders have been grappling with the harsh reality of a cost of living crisis. Grocery prices have skyrocketed, with food prices in August 2023 being a staggering 8.9% higher than the same month in 2022. Leading this price surge is the cost of grocery food, which has seen an alarming increase of 10.6%. Families across the country are feeling the pinch as their weekly food bills climb higher and higher.
Several factors contribute to this alarming rise in food prices. The global pandemic disrupted supply chains, the catastrophic floods in New Zealand wreaked havoc on agricultural production, and energy shortages resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine added fuel to the fire. But these are not the only culprits. Experts point to a lack of competition in the supermarket sector as a major driver of soaring grocery and food prices.
Dr. Murat Ungor at the University of Otago’s Department of Economics highlights the absence of competition as the heart of the problem. "The lack of competition in the supermarket sector plays a significant role in driving up grocery and food prices. Limited choice and absence of competitive pricing have a detrimental impact on consumers."
In 2022, the Commerce Commission echoed this sentiment, stating that New Zealand grocery prices appeared high by international standards, and major grocery retailers' profitability seemed disproportionately high.
Against this backdrop of economic challenges and rising food prices, the issue of food loss and waste becomes even more glaring. New Zealand households collectively discard over 100,000 tonnes of food every year, a significant portion of which could have been consumed. This translates into a staggering $1520 wasted per household annually.
Even for those who consider themselves mindful consumers, these statistics are eye-opening. Food waste, in essence, is throwing money down the drain at a time when every dollar counts.
While not all food wastage can be avoided, it’s important to dispose of food in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. Whether this be composting at home, sending it to a local composting facility or disposal at one of Waste Management’s world-leading landfills – where the methane that is naturally released from organic waste as it decomposes is captured and converted to electricity - enough to power 25,000 homes in 2022.
Our Living Earth facilities have more than 30 years of experience turning organic waste into compost and in 2022, 85,466 tonnes of food and garden waste was turned into compost by our Living Earth operations nationwide.
A significant portion of food waste includes items that could have been creatively repurposed. For instance, New Zealanders discard a substantial amount of carrots and carrot peelings each year. Carrots, often purchased in bulk, tend to linger in fridges until they become limp or inedible. However, a simple trick can revive limp carrots: soak them in water. Additionally, carrots can be frozen after cutting into desired sizes and blanching.
The waste extends to other vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower stalks, which are entirely edible. Throwing away broccoli stalks results in an annual loss of up to $60 per household. These stalks are low in energy but rich in fibre and essential vitamins, making them a valuable addition to meals.
In these challenging times of rising food prices and economic uncertainties, addressing food loss and waste is not only an environmental and ethical imperative but also a practical way to stretch every dollar. As we observe International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, let's remember that change begins at home, in our kitchens, and in our grocery aisles.