Food waste: now it’s time for Italy to join the fight
Italy is putting itself on the front lines of the battle against food waste. In 2016, the Italian Senate approved a bill that Maurizio Martina, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies, has defined as being the “legacy of Expo.“ The objective is to save 1 million euros worth of food per year.
This law aims to increase reuse and donations of surplus food, with the focus being on giving food to help the needy.
Unlike the recent French law, which is based on sanctions for lawbreakers, the Italian law is aimed at simplifying bureaucracy, offering fiscal incentives (like reducing taxes on waste) for cities and businesses that decide to donate food to the needy that would have otherwise been thrown out. Another element of the law is to teach people to embrace the doggy bag concept (what in Italy is being called a “family bag“).
This regulation introduces the definitions of food “surplus” and “waste,” as well as offering clarity on minimum conservation standards and expiration dates and streamlining donation procedures while respecting health norms and traceability.
Another important aspect is supporting food education in schools to lessen food waste.
The importance of prevention at home
Therefore, this is a positive turning point for Italy where 4.6 million people live in absolute poverty in the face of this waste (Istat data). Unfortunately, this is still a “drop in the bucket” says Andrea Segrè, a professor at the University of Bologna and creator of the Waste Watcher National Observatory (made up of the Swg research firm and Last Minute Market, an organization that takes food that is unable to be sold and gives it to charity organizations, with the support of the Ministry of the Environment and UniCredit), which has analyzed the issue of food waste in Italy for years. “The law is a cornerstone, but the true theme is domestic prevention. We need to create good habits among our citizens. It is people in their homes who create the most waste.”
For Segrè “better studying the causes and consumer behaviors, from buying to much to not using the refrigerator properly, is the first step in guaranteeing proper policies for preventing waste. Even the mention in the law of food education in the schools is too vague.”
He points out that in the law “they don’t write the objectives to be reached and the ways waste is to be limited in a clear and definite way.” Furthermore, this issue “needs to be worked on at a European level” and for this reason is “among the objectives of our Zero Waste campaign, with the creation oft he European Year focused on food waste. It is a global issue and should be coordinated among the EU member states.”
Food waste in Italy adds up to 1% of the GDP
According to Waste Watcher data, food waste in Italy amounts to more than 13 billion euros per year, about 1% of the GDP.
According to Coldiretti, these 13 billion are lost as such: 54% at the consumer level, 21% in the restaurant industry, 15% in the distribution channel, 8% in agriculture and 2% in processing. Coldiretti adds that on average, every Italian throws out a staggering 76 kilos of food products during the year.
In the European Union alone, 88 million tons of food are thrown out per year. Trash bins in the home are the worst culprit in terms of food waste with 47 million tons wasted for EU citizens. This adds up to a cost 8.4 billion euros per year for Italians (6.70 euros a week per family).
One-third of the world’s food goes to waste
A report published in The Guardian points out that, in the United States, about 50% of vegetables harvested are thrown out because of aesthetic defects. Due to so-called “high-appearance quality standards,” producers and distributors are obligated to throw out fruits and vegetables, amounting to about 60 million tons per year.
Waste Watcher calculates the world’s food waste as amounting to 1 trillion dollars, and this increases to more than 2.6 trillion due to “hidden costs” linked to water and the environmental impact.
Today, one-third of the food produced around the world is wasted. FAO estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food products are thrown out per year while 795 million people go hungry.
Bottura’s initiative at the Olympics
The fine dining industry is also showing that it is attuned to this issue. In Italy, chef Massimo Bottura is the champion of the anti-food waste movement. With his Food for Soul charity, he has launched various initiatives aimed at reusing foods that are being thrown out or are nearing their expiration date. These food items can then be transformed into meals for the needy.
He began with the Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan during Expo, and this experience was expanded to other Italian cities and abroad, all the way to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro where leftover food from the Olympic village was donated to needy Brazilians. For 2017, Bottura is working on a similar project with actor Robert De Niro in a difficult neighborhood in the Bronx in New York.
Chef Rubio (Gabriele Rubini) was also in Rio. He was nominated the official chef of the Casa Italia at the Paralympics for his commitment to social issues and initiatives meant to educate people on food waste.
Chefs Giancarlo Morelli and Norbert Niederkofler have come up with “Care’s – The Ethical Chef Days,” an initiative that brings together ethical issues with the restaurant world, from recycling leftovers to energy savings and from the seasonality of local products to respecting the environment.
Technological innovation to fight waste
Technology can also help to reduce food waste. The London-based company Winnow, for example, has launched a system that allows restaurants to use a touchscreen to monitor how much food is being thrown out in the kitchen, and to better plan for how much food to buy, therefore avoiding further waste in addition to the food left on diners’ plates.
The Danish app Too Good to Go allows for surplus food at restaurants to be sold at discounted prices (from 2 to 5 euros). The objective is to save food that is too good to be thrown away. There are advantages for restaurants as well as for customers’ pocketbooks.
What’s more, the new Italian law is to create a fund worth 3 million euros destined to finance innovative projects meant to limit food waste, to reuse surplus food and to promote reusable packaging or packaging that can be easily recycled.
But what is needed most in order to resolve this problem, according to all of the data provided above, is a cultural change in our daily lives in our homes. This is the only way that the new Italian law will truly have an impact and can be a model to be followed by all.