We need to talk about food waste: $870 million of it, says Dr Jeff Seadon

by | May 4, 2022 | Opinion

New Zealand households throw out 230,000 tonnes of food waste annually, of which 54% was avoidable – that is, still edible. That’s enough to feed two cities the size of Dunedin or to provide lunches for all school-aged children for three years. Yikes. Where doe sit all comes from and is it as big a problem as it sounds?

Vincent was joined by Dr Jeff Seadon, a senior lecturer at the AUT School for Future Environments, on The Feed Weekly podcast. Here’s an excerpt of the interview.

Listen to the full interview with Dr Jeff Seadon here

Vincent: Jeff, let’s start with the big picture because these numbers are certainly frightening, if not slightly incredible. Are they correct?

Senior Lecturer Jeff Seadon, a waste minimisation expert in the School of Future Environments, AUT

Jeff: Well, basically the answer is yes, we can. But to take it even to a larger scale, if we are looking worldwide, we find that around about a third of the food overall is wasted. So we are talking about an enormous amount that’s being produced that ends up just simply as waste. If we bring it down to the next level, the New Zealand agriculture and horticulture industry is wasting about twice as much as what is being wasted in homes. So somewhere about 570,000 tonnes never makes it into the supermarket shelves.

Now just back to households, you mentioned the figure of 54% being edible. Well that represents about $870 million in terms of wasted money in buying the stuff, which works out to about $560 per household per year.

Vincent: That’s mind blowing when you consider that we also live in a society where there’s food poverty, Explain how this waste works. So maybe start with the household.

Jeff: Yeah, I think with what’s going on in the household, is a number of factors. There’s impulse buying that occurs. There are also so specials – you stock up on specials. And then you stuff that you need once in a while, stock up on it. And this stuff gradually makes its way to the back of the fridge or th the pantry. And then you think, oh, we need a clean out.

…that represents about $870 million in terms of wasted money in buying the stuff, which works out to about $560 per household per year.

And there you, you gingerly stick your hand into the back of the fridge in case something comes and gets you. And you discover all these foods with expired best before dates.

Vincent: It’s never stopped our family. Jeff. We have, um, constitutions. I get it, it’s not malicious, so much as careless. So why is this something to worry about? I mean, it could be that waste is just inherent in any system and actually just managing that and living with it is not a bad option. Why is food waste actually a problem?

Jeff: What we are doing with food waste is that we are generating so much extra at the growing and manufacturing level that we don’t actually need. So there are all the world’s resources going into producing this – the nutrients from the ground, people’s time and effort, the transportation of it to store and then home and then transportation to landfill. So we should be looking at things in a more conservative way of saying ‘well, let’s not waste food.

Vincent: I suppose another way to look at it was to be to say if we increased production by a third, with no extra cost and no extra environmental inputs, we would regard that as some kind of miracle, wouldn’t we?

Jeff: If we didn’t have this wastage then we will reach overproduction. That was something that occurred back in the 1950s in America. The post-war production kept going and going and going and suddenly it was a case of, ‘oh, we’ve got all this production capacity, but we don’t have the the consumer base to do it’. And that was really the start of the consumer society … you don’t need to do the dishes. You don’t need to prepare the food. It all gets done for you. And this is just carried on, uh, in, in larger scale so that we are wasting so much more now than what we used to.”

Vincent & Jeff went on to discuss the new food waste scheme planned for Auckland. Read more about Jeff’s critique of this scheme here.

About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Vincent Heeringa is a communications strategist, writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in tech, investment, and sustainability. He was co-founder of Idealog, Stoppress and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. He is the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’, co-founder of The Feed.co.nz, and a trustee of the Adventure Specialties Trust. And there's nothing he loves more than a good story. vincentheeringa.com

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