If Carlsberg is known as probably the best beer in the world, then Denmark can soon be known as probably the world leading country in the fight against food waste. With national reduction in food waste by 25% within the last five years, a national movement against food waste, a food waste restaurant, a food waste supermarket, the government’s Partnership against Food Waste, giant focus on food waste in the media and new food waste reduction initiatives and startups popping up almost every month, Denmark can be proud of its great achievements in the fight against food waste.
Perhaps the France and soon Italy are the first countries in the world to introduce national laws against food waste, but they are definitely not the first countries in the fight against food waste.
A global shame
Denmark is a relatively small country populated by 5,7 million people - yet Denmark’s national food waste reaches up to 700.000 tons of good edible food per year. Largest part of the country’s food waste is generated by the households – and most of the food the Danes are throwing away is fruits, vegetables, bread, dairy products and leftovers from meals. This is by the way a very typical picture for the Western households.
While in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa most of the food is lost during the farming, post-harvesting and processing stages, the tremendous amounts of food waste in the Western countries happen at the consumers’ homes. The new report from the Danish EPA in collaboration with the Danish government, to which I have been contributing, shows that most of the Danes’ food waste happens at homes, especially in the refrigerators, where people are forgetting to use up all the food. The food gets forgotten in the back of the fridge and gradually goes bad. Confusion about the date labeling and the lack of knowledge of using the leftovers are also quite common food waste traps.
The most recent numbers from the EU FUSIONS project, where I participate as one of the Partners, show that every year EU generates 88 million tons of food waste – estimated to roughly 143 billion Euros per year. If we look at the entire planet, the numbers from the UN FAO show that one third of the world’s food is either lost or wasted, making the food waste a global shame on the face of human civilization, especially when almost a billion humans on this planet are either starving or undernourished. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Aid estimates that at least 300,000 Danes are living below the poverty line, many of them are food insecure.
A national movement
Since the foundation of the Stop Wasting movement (Stop Spild Af Mad) eight years ago, the fight against food waste has become a national movement.
Denmark is a country, which takes pride in producing food. The respect for the produced food is growing among the Danes, who gradually start cooking to feed themselves and not their garbage bins.
Today, because of the fight against food waste trend and the consumer pressure, almost every retain chain in Denmark has a food waste prevention strategy. The REMA 1000 retail chain, with the inspiration from the Stop Wasting movement, replaced all their quantity discounts with single item discounts to minimize food waste. This method is now being replicated by the competing retail chains such as Coop, LIDL and many others. As the single population of Denmark is growing, more single friendly products are being launched on the market – meat and bread in smaller packages as well as butter and yoghurt. The CEO of the Danish Federation of Shopkeepers DSK Mr. John Wagner told in an interview that the fight against food waste is becoming a strong competitive parameter among the Danish supermarkets.
From food waste to big business
A buffet in a restaurant is a huge food waste trap, because the food cannot be reused afterwards due to the food safety issues. The new Danish startup Too Good To Go has solved that problem. With help from this app, you can visit your local restaurant near its closing time, fill up a box of food from the buffet and thus get a very cheap good meal. The restaurant wastes less food, makes more money and you get a good bargain. A win-win scenario, which not only reduces food waste, but helps the restaurant to earn money on the food, which otherwise would have been wasted.
Another example is the Danish food industry making big business on surplus food. The Irma supermarket chain has launched the Food Waste Chips made of surplus bread. The potato salad industry is starting to use the “ugly” potatoes in the potato salad production. And more and more Danish supermarkets have the “stop food waste areas”, where Danes can buy good food close to its expiration date at very cheap prices. Thus, people get good cheap food and at the same time help avoiding the food waste, while the supermarket gets extra income on the food, which otherwise could have been wasted.
Today, a large amount of Danish hospitals, canteens and restaurants have food waste reduction strategies, which save their businesses large amounts of money. According to Unilever Food Solutions, a medium sized canteen can save up to 90,000 Euro per year by reducing food waste. Many canteens use the money saved by the food waste reduction to buy organic food, boosting the organic agriculture. The REFOOD label highlights the cafés, restaurants and canteens that joined the fight against food waste, making it attractive to the sustainability-oriented customers.
Many waste companies focus on the recycling and waste sorting campaigns, such as the AVV Nulskrald in Jutland – and actually deliver impressive results. The household waste can actually cut in half, if the households start sorting their waste and recycle.
Several educational food waste campaigns for schools are launched. Universities focus on food waste prevention assignments for students. Projects such as the WeFood food waste supermarket and Rub & Stub food waste restaurant, despite of not addressing the problem at its roots, as they both requite a daily flow of food waste to keep operating, are brilliant initiatives. The growing amount of charity NGOs such as LOFU and PROJECT HOMELESS deliver good surplus food to homeless and socially disadvantaged citizens and hundreds of food bloggers create mouthwatering recipes to inspire their followers to join the fight against food waste.
And by these above mentioned initiatives, I am just scratching the surface.
Keeping the momentum
It is important to keep the momentum in the fight against food waste. According to Danish Agriculture & Food Council, Denmark’s national food waste has been reduced by 25% within the last five years. It’s a good start.
But what will happen, when the fight against food waste doesn’t make the headlines in the media anymore? What will happen, when the food business stakeholders, leaders and politicians move onto a new and trendier agenda? What will happen, when the fight against food waste turns into greenwashing?
The food waste will still be present, despite of the lack of its focus.
It’s important to focus on the prevention. Nationally and internationally, the food waste symptom treatment is making way more headlines than the prevention of the problem. Yet, the prevention is the most efficient and lasting way to dramatically decrease the mountains of food waste.
Focusing on the prevention and putting the food into good use before the food becomes wasted is the key to solving the global food waste scandal.