Food waste in Australia

October 15, 2020

Food waste is a financial, social and environmental problem. So it’s a pretty big deal that Australia ranks as the 4th worst food waster in the world per capita.

In 2016-2017, Australia generated an estimated 7.3 million tonnes (MT) of food waste. This waste is valued at $9.6 billion AUD, and has since increased to $10.1billion in 2019.

According to Foodbank Australia’s 2020 annual hunger report, 3 in 10 Australians experienced food insecurity before the pandemic, with that number rising during the crisis. The pandemic has made things more difficult for already-vulnerable Australians, as well as placed more Australians into food insecurity. 28% of Australians who are experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic have never experienced it before.

Our massive amounts of food waste is also having a growing negative impact on the environment, because food that end up in landfill generates Methane—which is a greenhouse gas that’s 20-80 times more potent than CO2. If food waste were a country, its carbon emissions would rank third in the world, behind the US and China. Food waste is also costly in terms of the resources wasted in producing it, with 25% of the water used in agriculture ultimately wasted because it’s been used to grow food that’s just thrown out.

Looking closer at Australia

Food waste exists at every stage of the food chain, but there are more wasteful stages than others. Households and primary production are the largest waste generating stages (34% and 31% respectively), with households generating a massive 2,500 KT of food waste alone. The National Food Waste baseline also found that only 8% of household food waste is being composted, while the rest is going to landfill.

In Australia, Victoria wastes more food than any other state or territory, with a 2019 report finding that the average Victorian Household wastes about 13.9% of their food. This has increased from the 11% in year before and is a trend that’s shared with all other states. On average, Australians waste 13% of their weekly grocery shop, which is equivalent to $1,026 per household per year.

So... What can we do?

Ultimately, food waste is an issue that requires governmental, communal and individual efforts to resolve. This means a combination of government policies, innovative grassroots initiatives and household lifestyle changes will be necessary for food waste prevention, recycling and recovery. Even though you may not be able to solve the problem all on your own, we can all contribute by making better choices in our weekly shops and even when we eat out or get takeaway.

A simple rule of thumb is to buy only what you’ll eat.