FOCUS: Tackling food waste in the Middle East
Phil Davidson, Senior Manager, Sustainability, Europe & Asia for HAVI on how food waste can be reduced throughout the supply chain.
Each year, about one-third of food produced is wasted globally. Food waste is a significant economic, environmental and societal issue and while waste is highest in Europe and North America, it is also a significant and growing problem in the Middle East.
With over 10 million tonnes of food being mobilised within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) each year, including imports and local production, it is estimated that a staggering 3.27 million tonnes of food is wasted in the region, enough to fill 136,250 trucks.
During Ramadan a vast amount of food is discarded, with food wastage as much as 25% higher than at other times. For example, in Bahrain, food waste exceeds 400 tonnes per day during the holy month, and in Qatar almost half of the food prepared during Ramadan finds its way into waste bins.
Food loss and waste has a significant impact on the environment. The global carbon footprint of wasted food is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes.3 In fact, if food waste were a country it would rank behind only the U.S. and China for greenhouse gas emissions.
There is growing awareness that governments cannot effectively tackle climate change or hunger, without reducing food waste. According to Mintel’s latest report, food waste will be key focus among governments, organisations and consumers in 2017.
Here we explore creative efforts by chefs, distributors and supermarkets, as well as new ways of transforming waste and composting that offer promising ways to cut waste.
Creative strategies from chefs, distributors and supermarkets
Chefs are increasingly joining in the nose-to-tail movement (cooking the whole animal) as well as the root-to-stem movement (using all the parts of a plant that are edible). For example, New York–based Blue Hill chef, Dan Barber, created a three-week pop-up restaurant where he used stale bread, fish bones, the fibrous leftovers from vegetable juicers as well as “other stuff normally considered garbage”, turning them into $15-a-plate dishes.
Another contributor to the movement includes produce distributor Baldor Specialty Foods, which created its SparCs distribution programme, offering trims, tops, and peelings to chefs and food manufacturers.
In the U.K. leading supermarkets have pledged to drive down food and drink waste by a fifth within the next decade. One of these supermarkets, Sainsbury’s, is working with Bosch to trial smart fridges, featuring built-in cameras accessible via a smartphone app, which let users check their contents at any time, helping them to avoid buying products they already have in their fridge.
Transforming waste into energy
Decomposing food in landfills emits the greenhouse gas methane, which is 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.6 To use methane in a productive way, Purdue University and the West Lafayette Wastewater Treatment Plant collaborated to power the treatment plant using methane from the university’s food leftovers.
Each week, scraps from 100,000-plus meals were ground into five tonnes of yack, a pulp with the consistency of coleslaw. The pulp was then broken down by an anaerobic digester into methane, which then powered two electric generators.
Composting organic waste
An increasing number of cities have begun composting organic waste in an effort to reduce the cost and impact of food waste. Composting enables organic waste to be broken aerobically, and is more environmentally-friendly than dumping in landfills.
Some cities in northern Europe now encourage their residents to compost their organic waste. For example, Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, uses its website to show residents how to make their own compost, highlighting that it will decrease their rubbish removal costs.
Some people have also started using worms to speed up the composting process, reduce waste and create soil for plants.
As we can see, many innovative solutions to food waste already exist and only need to be more effectively shared and adapted to local contexts in the Middle East. Companies, governments and consumers can all embrace these ideas and make sure leftovers don’t end up as landfill.