World making little progress on food waste, a big climate problem

Nov 15 (Reuters) – Every Thursday, California resident Richard Redmond brings a gallon-sized container of food scraps to the city of South Pasadena Farmers Market where it is collected and composted for use in the gardens – an effort to reduce the amount of household waste it sends to landfill.

“It’s just beautiful,” said the web designer, who is in his 60s. “You can see how separating it just reduces the amount of trash you put in.”

Redmond’s experience is a small window into a huge global problem, and there aren’t enough people with him.

Every year, the world throws away about 931 million tons of food, most of which ends up in landfills, where it breaks down to produce about a tenth of the gases that warm the global climate, according to the United Nations.

This is a major challenge for countries fighting against global warming at the ongoing COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Nations around the world pledged in 2015 to halve food waste by 2030, but few are on track to achieve it, according to United Nations officials, sustainability watchdogs and governments interviewed by Reuters.

“There are eight years left and we are a long way from reaching that goal,” said Rosa Rolle, team leader for food loss and waste at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Of the five biggest food wasters per capita, for example, at least three — the United States, Australia and New Zealand — have increased their food waste since 2015, according to independent estimates that their governments don’t dispute. Reliable information for the other two, Ireland and Canada, was not available.

The problem is not limited to rich countries either. A UN study last year found a “negligible” correlation between household food waste and gross domestic product, indicating that most countries “have room to improve”.

The poor performance is due to a lack of public investment and clear policies to counter things like food spoilage in trucks and warehouses, wasteful consumption habits and confusion over expiration and best-before dates. , said experts.

The lack of transparency compounds the problem. When the UN General Assembly adopted the 2015 food waste target, it did not set a clear benchmark against which to measure progress due to patchy country-level estimates.

UN agencies and nonprofits participating in COP27 will ask governments on November 16 to renew their pledges and provide progress reports at next year’s summit in Dubai, Rolle said.

AMERICAN PIE

The average American wastes more than 700 calories from food a day – about a third of the recommended daily intake – according to a 2020 study by researchers in Switzerland and India, making America’s progress an important benchmark for the other nations.

The country is not yet a model. The amount of food wasted in the United States increased by 12% between 2010 and 2016 and has since leveled off, according to ReFED, a waste reduction group that works closely with the US government.

“We have a long way to go to reach the goal,” said Jean Buzby, the food waste liaison officer at the US Department of Agriculture.

Part of the problem is the lack of federal leadership.

The USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration agreed in 2018 to fight American food waste together. But they’ve devoted few resources to the effort since, said Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED.

The USDA and FDA each have only one full-time staff dedicated to food waste, the agencies told Reuters. The EPA declined to give a figure, saying the work was spread across multiple offices.

“What a real focus on this would look like would be for each of these agencies to dedicate staff, to give those staff funding to implement things,” Gunders said.

The USDA and EPA said they do not track spending on food waste initiatives. The FDA did not comment on its expenses.

In the meantime, agencies are counting on the private sector to help them. Forty-seven companies, including food retailer Ahold Delhaize and processor General Mills, have pledged to halve their food waste by 2030 under a voluntary USDA and EPA program launched in 2016.

About 15 of these companies provided updates on their websites showing that they have reduced their waste. Neither the EPA nor the USDA check their progress.

Beyond the federal level, only five states have passed laws to keep food out of landfills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont. ReFED considers only two of these policies to be strong as they cover most businesses and individuals.

Other countries among the top five wasters have also been slow to even establish a baseline against which to measure progress.

In New Zealand, the percentage of food households thrown away rose to 13.4% in 2022 from 8.6% in 2021, according to a report by research firm Katar. A spokesperson for New Zealand’s environment ministry said the country was finalizing its baseline estimate of food waste so it could set a target.

Spokespersons from Canada, Australia and Ireland also said their countries were committed to the goal, but did not elaborate on progress made so far.

At least one major economy, on the other hand, is doing well.

The UK reduced food waste by 27% between 2007 and 2018, according to The Waste and Resources Action Programme, an organization that tracks the country’s progress. His campaign included eliminating best before dates on packages, redistributing unused food to charities, and educating the public about meal planning.

SLOWEST GAZELLE

In California, which has the most ambitious climate policies in the United States, authorities are trying to ensure that food waste is composted and not landfilled. But it’s a fight.

Composting food emits less greenhouse gases than landfilling because the decomposition occurs in the open rather than in a covered pit. When food rots without being exposed to air, it produces methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

In 2016, the state passed a law requiring a 75% reduction in organic waste landfill by 2025. But in 2020, the state was heading in the wrong direction, throwing away 2 million tons of food from more in landfills than in its base year of 2014.

The delays are due in part to a lack of facilities to handle organic waste and a tight 13-month timeline between when the regulations were finalized and when they were due to be implemented, according to the League of California. Cities, which represents municipalities in the state. .

In the Southern California community of Apple Valley, however, city officials are ready and have equipped residents with 35-gallon carts for organic waste.

The service has driven up consumer bills for waste collection by several dollars a month, but it’s money well spent, said Guy Eisenbrey, director of municipal services.

“We basically try not to be the slowest gazelle in the pack.”

Reporting by Nichola Groom and Leah Douglas; additional reporting by Lucy Cramer in Wellington, Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and John Mair in Sydney; edited by Richard Valdmanis and Claudia Parsons

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Lea Douglas

Thomson Reuters

Award-winning Washington-based journalist covering agriculture and energy, including competition, regulation, federal agencies, corporate consolidation, environment and climate, racial discrimination and labor, formerly at Food and Environment ReportingNetwork.

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