The release of the new Waste and Sustainable Material Strategy from the NSW government has outlined a six-year strategy for creating a circular economy, which includes addressing the high levels of food waste.
Amanda Kane, manager of organics at the NSW Environment Protection Authority, said the goal of the strategy, along with the Your Business is Food Program, aims to reduce food waste by 50 per cent by 2030.
“We know the Your Business is Food Program works, we are reducing food waste by about 20 per cent on average in cafes and restaurants,” said Kane.
“We piloted it with major hotels, like the Hilton, where they are saving $850,000 and have halved their food waste, through good practices. Avoidance is the pinnacle of what to achieve because it saves money, diverts waste away from landfill and reduces emissions.”
Kane said the savings made by the Hilton, and other companies using the program, should be enough to encourage others to jump on board, especially with the release of the NSW Government’s new strategy.
“The strategy sets out new commitments that by 2030 all households will have to separate their food waste and all larger food wasting business will also to have to do the same by 2025,” said Kane.
“We are starting with the largest food waste generating businesses, which are hospitality, retail and institutions.”
The new requirement to source separate food waste is being described as a game changer for the industry because it will bring into clear focus the amount of waste being contributed by each company.
“Most businesses don’t realise how much food they are wasting and rarely think about it,” said Kane.
Research has shown that for every $1 spent on food waste diversion there is a $14 dollar return, more evidence of the immediate benefits of diverting food waste.
“Once you start source separating, and of course in that process you will save money on landfill disposal costs,” said Kane.
“There is a financial benefit to do it. that’s in avoided wasted stock, in labour costs, prep costs, all of the elements.
“It adds up when you start looking at it so with this new requirement to source separate, businesses will be able to see how much food waste they are creating.”
The EPA is currently working on a $30 million program to help stakeholders to meet the new requirements by providing education, infrastructure and the systems needed.
Kane said the areas where food waste occurs are numerous, but all can be overhauled to reduce the levels, from home and retail kitchens right through to manufacturing.
The financial benefits from source separating are also numerous, such as saving money on landfill disposal costs.
“We have to highlight what the benefits are for businesses, not which of least is the cost savings,” said Kane.
“There is also the environmental benefit, for a lot of the larger companies this feeds into their own net zero or carbon neutrality commitments.
“Because the collected food waste is reducing emissions and processed into compost it’s a carbon sequestration into the soil and it helps food grow. All in all, there are many benefits to doing this.
The EPA’s approach has evolved over the years as more research sheds light on problem areas which can be corrected.
“It’s an evolution,” said Kane.
“In NSW we have been running the Waste Less, Recycle More program since 2013, and that’s been an $800 million to support increased recycling and diversion and I managed the organic program.”
Kane said one of the overarching issues when it comes to business food waste is the collection economics, however a range of government programs running back several years, such as Waste Less, Recycle More, have invested money into things like curb side collection, bins and scales.
Another part of the EPA’s program push is around food donation as a means of curving food waste out of land fill.
Private residences are still the largest contributors to food waste, 700 million tonnes a year, however the new requirements will see homes and businesses required to separate their waste by 2030, while councils are committing to pick-ups.
“So far we now have 43 councils offering food and garden collections and the new requirement is all households will be doing that by 2030,” said Kane.
Another area where food donation programs could make a huge impact on diverting food from landfill is within institutions.
A national food waste baseline study recently estimated that 100 per cent of all food waste form institutions goes to land fill.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what peak bodies and governments are doing to address food waste but does a lot to paint a picture of the situation.
“The net zero commitment, coupled with the new waste and sustainable material strategy commitment and it’s putting food waste well and truly on the agenda for business,” said Kane.