Global food loss and waste – food that is discarded or lost without being eaten – amounts to around one-third of all food produced, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Food waste and loss accounts for 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the FAO, and an alarming 2018 report by the Boston Consulting Group predicts that the amount of food that is wasted each year is set to rise by a third by 2030, when 2.1 billion tonnes will either be lost or thrown away. This is equivalent to a staggering 66 tonnes of food wasted each second.
“Food waste has always been an environmental and a social equity problem. However, with intensive agricultural practices making food readily available all year round – including out of season – it has led to a drastic decline in the nurturing relationship between society and nature’s ability to provide humankind with food,” says Dr Alexandra Mifsud, who lectures at the Centre for Environmental Education and Research (CEER) at the University of Malta. “The inequitable abundance of food in westernised societies – as the rest of the world suffers famine and malnourishment – is undoubtedly a moral problem as well as an environmental one. It reflects the self-absorbed attitude and short-sightedness typically present in modern societies. Unless there is a radical shift in these societal traits, and in food production practices, I would be inclined to say that the rise of food waste is set to continue.”
Loss and wastage occur at all stages of the food supply chain or value chain. In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production, whilst in developed countries, a great deal of food is wasted at the consumption stage, particularly in restaurants and other outside catering establishments. “Food service production accounts for 12 per cent of the EU’s total food waste, according to the results of the 2016 project FUSION,” say Professor Nadia Tecco and Professor Franco Fassio, from Northern Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences. “If no corrective measures will be adopted in the next years, such a major environmental problem, which also has economic and social repercussions, could get even worse,” they explain.
“By throwing away the equivalent of 21 kg per person each year in Europe, the hospitality industry is contributing to the depletion of an environment of limited natural resources and to the increase of the carbon impact of the food system for present and future generations,” Professor Fassio says, while Professor Tecco adds that, “apart from these material and quantitative aspects, we should also consider the immaterial, and less immediate side of waste, in relation to our value system in a world where 850 million people are still undernourished.”
If food waste continues at its current rate on a global level, Dr Mifsud says the hospitality industry will be responsible for reinforcing, and possibly encouraging, the inequitable access to food, resulting in a rise in the lack of food security across the globe. “It will pose waste management challenges and will contribute further to CO2 emissions and climate change. It will be sending a message of support for the continued use of harmful and polluting pesticides and fertilisers. It will also make it more difficult to shift to healthier and sustainable food production.”
This is why the LIFE FOSTER project, a three-year collaboration between four partner countries – Malta, Italy, France and Spain – has been launched. The aim is to strengthen national capacity when it comes to food waste reduction in commercial settings, with education as the driving force behind the project.
“Food waste is becoming an increasingly hot topic, not just due to environmental concerns, but also due to the economic implications that it presents,” says Joe Tanti, CEO of the Malta Business Bureau (MBB), which, along with the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS), announced its participation in the LIFE FOSTER project in February 2019. “The MBB strongly believes that education and training are key enablers of behavioural change. That is why, together with our European partners, the MBB started exploring possible solutions to help combat food waste in Europe. This good work has culminated into the LIFE FOSTER project which is running today.”
Pierre Fenech, CEO at ITS, says that the project will complement the current drive on domestic food waste management by targeting the hospitality industry. “This project will contribute in part to immediately addressing Malta’s waste problems and forms a good basis for future work dealing with food waste.
Pierre Fenech, CEO at ITS
"It is an imperative step for ITS to tackle food waste, both to reduce it in our own training kitchens, as well as to teach tomorrow’s hospitality workers the necessary techniques to reduce food waste as much as possible. In view of the fact that the restaurant industry contributes to 12 per cent of the total food waste in Europe, we believe that ITS, being an educational institution for the hospitality and tourism industry, should be at the forefront of such a project.”
MBB’s Mr Tanti says the organisation has been working in the area of sustainability for several years, mostly focusing on water conservation and energy efficiency. “There is a growing realisation, both within Malta and across Europe, that food waste reduction is not only an environmental issue, but also presents a strong business case. At the end of the day, wasted food represents wasted money. Apart from this economic incentive, there is a growing drive from the EU level, with food waste being included as one of the EU’s priority areas for a circular economy,” he says.
This is an excerpt of an interview which was featured in the June edition of Business Agenda.