One Man's Trash
One third of the food produced globally is wasted, and our piece of paradise is no exception. How can you help?
The world is producing enough food to feed everyone, but about one third of that food is wasted, and our piece of paradise is no exception. What simple actions can we take that will make a difference? And what can corporates do to meet this challenge?
Grub. Kai. Snacks.
Whatever you call it, food is a life essential. Not just because it’s nourishing, and it fills our bellies,
but because it brings us together and puts smiles on our faces. Vegans, gluten-free and gluten-friendly, meat lovers and the rest, one thing’s for sure, we all order our day around food.
So why are we frittering so much of it away? (pun intended)
How much food are we wasting?
Every year in Tauranga, over 11,000 tonnes of food waste ends up in landfill. That represents
about 35 per cent of the average residential kerbside rubbish bin heading to the tip. And what
does our food do in landfill? Left buried, it decomposes without oxygen, releasing methane gas.
Since methane is the fundamental component of natural gas, when left to float around our planet,
it absorbs the sun’s heat and warms up the atmosphere, giving it the label of ‘greenhouse gas’.
You might have heard that one in the same sentence as global warming.
Marty Hoffart, owner of Waste minimisation consultancy Waste Watchers, says the problem
isn’t going away. “My big issue is that organic waste is the most harmful waste we dump. Many people don’t realise this. Organic waste is buried and starved of oxygen in landfill, so it rots and creates greenhouse gases that damage the planet. It’s also a huge waste of resources — we could
be composting it locally and making use of it here, rather than trucking it over to the nearest
landfills in Waikato.”
The global challenge
The environmental message is hard to miss. The Love Food, Hate Waste website sums it up in
a sobering nutshell: “If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest producer of carbon emissions behind China and the United States. The more food that we waste, the more food we
need to produce. This constant need to produce more puts additional pressure on the environment. For example, 25-million acres of land are deforested each year in order to grow food. This is happening despite the fact that we are actually producing enough food to feed the world.” (lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz)
The good news?
People are doing something about it.
In 2016 France became the first country in the world to make it illegal for supermarkets to
throw away or destroy unsold food. Instead they have to donate it to charities. While there’s
been no change in legislation here, Kiwis and Kiwi businesses have had a shift in attitude.
Jackie Paine of local food rescue charity Good Neighbour says supermarkets watch food
waste closely. She says while there’ll always be some waste, most food producers and retailers
are working hard to repurpose leftover food on a large scale. “We collect around 1.7 tonnes per
day from Tauranga food businesses, including 10 cafes and all the major supermarkets, and redistribute that food to 55 organisations in the Tauranga region. The supermarkets here are
all on board and all trying.”
While Food Bank is the biggest Good Neighbour recipient, taking 10 per cent in four deliveries
per week, other charities include Tauranga Moana Night Shelter Trust, The Salvation Army
and Homes of Hope.
“Decreasing food waste is all about education,” says Jackie. “We were the first food rescue in
New Zealand to accept processed meat and milk because we have chiller trucks, and now we’ve passed that knowledge on to other food rescue charities around the country. It involves strict
food and safety guidelines and we’re careful to handle all the food responsibly.
“Communication is key. We work with the supermarkets, letting them know how much food is
wasted on a monthly basis, so they can work towards further reduction. We also work with big producers to backfill any trucks on a one-way delivery trip from larger centres — for instance we
sent four pallets of kiwi fruit up to Auckland recently.”
With three interlocked arms to the charity (neighbourhood projects, food rescue and community gardens), Good Neighbour — which believes in hand ups, not handouts — are taking their food knowledge a step further. “We’re really excited about our upcoming social enterprise — a commercial kitchen programme to mentor unemployed people wanting new skills,” says Jackie. “In this way, we’re trying to address the real poverty issues in our community. (Find out more at goodneighbour.co.nz
or get in touch if you have any commercial kitchen equipment to donate.)
Marty’s a big fan of Good Neighbour’s work, but says New Zealand’s waste minimisation needs
more action. “Nationwide, waste directed to landfill has gone up by 16 per cent since 2014. Our recycling rate has gone down. The Waste Minimisation Act hasn’t got tough on any particular area, food waste included. There’s also never been an announcement out of Wellington about mandatory product stewardship schemes for electronics or beverage containers. It requires government regulation, like the plastic bag ban. We need to get tougher with producers. We’re one of the few countries who think we can get there voluntarily, but we can’t.”
But what about you, me and the bloke next door?
While it’s true that globally, food is wasted at all stages of the supply chain, in our part of the
world much of the the fault lies with the consumer, after purchase. That’s you!
According to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, far too many New Zealanders waste food, chucking out more than 122,000 tonnes every year, worth around $872 million. The three-year campaign began in June 2016 with the aim of reducing food waste and its associated financial
and environmental costs. Sixty councils (including Tauranga City Council), community groups
and the Ministry of the Environment are involved.
Waste warrior Kate Meads runs Love Food Hate Waste workshops that give locals practical advice about how to waste less food. She’s run more than 200 this year nationwide and says the Tauranga sessions always sell out weeks in advance.
“It’s obvious people are interested. The Food Lovers Masterclass looks at why we waste food and
the problems that causes but it also provides practical solutions — how to store food better, use
your freezer properly, buy less and smarter so food doesn’t go off, and about use-by and best-before dates.” Kate says she encourages everyone to look for solutions in their own backyard. “I use my own experience to help people understand that they don’t need to be perfect, just do their best. My partner and I started a garden years ago from nothing but it took a long time to get it going and we did it by adding something new every year. It didn’t happen overnight.
“Worm farming is composting, but instead of microbes breaking down the material, the worms eat it. It creates a beautiful liquid fertiliser that helps plants grow.”
“People get overwhelmed by the hard line and think they have to do things a certain way.
That puts them off because they don’t know the ‘right’ way or don’t have the time. I encourage
them to start a personal journey. Become a more conscious consumer and think about ways to
share their excess food.
“We live in little bubbles these days and forget about connecting with our community. If you
have excess food, think about giving it to the people closest to you — your neighbours. I read that
a leading cause of death in the US is loneliness. It seems like we’ve forgotten that humans are social creatures and we need to connect. What better way to do that than with food? “And for businesses and organisations, education is the way. If a business cares about creating less waste, that attitude filters through the ranks and to the consumer. It’s important businesses take that responsibility.”
Leo Murray, expert worm farmer and owner of Why Waste agrees wholeheartedly. “What I’ve found
is that if management can indicate they’re willing to put people and planet alongside profit, then
the culture in an organisation starts to reflect that. Once workers have buy-in environmentally
and socially, they feel like they’re part of an ecological enterprise and they are the ones that have face-to-face contact with customers.
“The best thing management can do is to start these initiatives. That creates a kind of osmosis between the public sphere and private sphere. If people are inspired in public, they’ll take the
idea into their homes. A great example are the zero-waste events run by The Little Big Markets.
If people can see that behaviour modelled, it’s much easier for them to understand that as normal and bring that into their home; but if we model chucking our rubbish all into the same bin, then
that’s what they’ll do.”
Leo says worm farms are an old-school solution for a modern problem. “It’s old technology.
They built the surface of the world that we live on, the one that keeps us alive. Worm farming
is composting, but instead of microbes breaking down the material, the worms eat it.”
The result is often called worm pee. “The worms produce worm castings and the pee is just water going through the worm, which collects all the suspended solids that are biologically alive and chemically rich. It’s a beautiful liquid fertiliser that’s full of life with microbes that communicate
the right chemicals to help plants grow. If you create an ecosystem ideal for a particular kind of worm, an environment where they can thrive, then they’re a sound approach to minimising organic waste.” Worm farms are popular around the country — Ripe Cafe in central Auckland uses 16 in
their backyard and Mt Eden prison has 70, saving them thousands of dollars. Leo offers a fully functioning worm farm hire service, which he regularly checks.
But should we be thinking outside the (custard) square?
While businesses and individuals can make a difference, maybe the answer to seriously impacting our food waste issues needs a bit of scientific creativity.
Located in Cape Town, a company called AgriProtein is producing MagMeal, a high-protein
feed made from dried black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) larvae that are fed on the organic waste from city and industrial waste sites.
With more than eight billion flies, their facility recycles 250 tonnes of waste per day and the result
is a product that is used as an agricultural and aquacultural feed.
Any keen fly farmers out there?
First published in issue 10 (September 2018) of Our Place magazine.
Story by Jan Goldie
Styling by Stephen Kirkby & Jill Parsons
Photography by Alice Veysey
How to Reduce Your Food Waste
Make a Plan, Stan!
→ Plan ahead with meals and make a menu-based shopping list so you don’t buy too much.
→ Learn about best-before and use-by dates, visit lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz
→ Keep track of what’s in the freezer. If you have to, write a list of what needs to be used first
and stick it on your fridge door.
→ Take the ewwww out of your fridge by Introducing a ‘use me first’ box.
→ Share leftover food or surplus homegrown produce with your neighbours.
→ Take Kate Mead’s Food Lovers’ Masterclass, visit thenappylady.co.nz
→ For more tips and recipes that use up food waste, visit lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz
Waste Not, Want Not
→ Hire an easy care, serviced worm farm from Leo at whywaste.co.nz. (He’s also looking for
a cafe that would be willing to trial worm farms, so spread the word.)
→ Take a worm farming basics workshop, visit tauranga.govt.nz
→ For composting tips, visit compostcollective.org.nz
→ Use a Bokashi composting system — it turns all your kitchen scraps into garden compost
in weeks. You can buy the bins or we’ve seen a cheap DIY version using paint buckets on
resene.co.nz (search ‘bokashi’)