Food waste – a massive problem that we can all do a lot about!

How we plan to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 Watch the video

The Dutch throw away 50 kilos of food a year on average, and that’s ignoring all food waste at farms, supermarkets and the hospitality industry. In fact, across the world one-third of all food ends up as waste, so it’s no wonder that the United Nations has made it one of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The good news is that all of us can do an awful lot to reduce food waste.

So how much food ends up in the bin?

The figures for food waste are shocking. If we add up all the food that is wasted across the globe, we could feed all of the world’s malnourished people four times over. An estimated one-third of all food we produce never reaches our stomachs. If it did, we’d need 1.4 billion hectares less in agricultural land. That’s over 2 billion football fields worth of land that never needed to be taken into production in the first place. Just churning out all that waste emits 3.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide every year, or 17 times the Netherlands’ emission total. Obviously, then, reducing food waste will make a sizeable contribution to achieving the Paris climate objectives.

No-one wants to waste food, so why is it happening?

The reasons differ from one country to the next. In the Netherlands and in many other countries in the West, consumers account for a hefty chunk of the waste: the average Dutch person throws out some 50 kilos of food a year. Bread tops the list at a whopping 9.2 kilos, i.e. around 200 slices of bread a year! Dairy, vegetables and fruit also end up down the sink and in the bin on a massive scale. The problem in the Netherlands, in fact, is that the Dutch pay little for their food relative to their incomes, spending some 11% compared with 30-40% in some countries. Put cynically: in this country we can afford to chuck out this much food. Less wealthy countries face a different set of problems and see most of their food waste at the farm end, often because of poor cooling, or storage and transport issues.

Food waste solutions: what can we do?

That also differs per country. Modern technology may help prevent a lot of waste in hot countries, such as solar-powered refrigerated containers. Technology may also help in the Netherlands (through sensors monitoring the quality of food, for instance). ABN AMRO’s Sector Advisory department (in Dutch only) has a lot of knowledge of these issues and is working to connect food producers with waste experts to help keep food waste to a minimum at production, transport and in supermarkets.

The Dutch government has taken the bull by the horns and put in place a Food Task Force (in Dutch only) to help halve food waste by 2030. It’s proven a pretty intractable issue, though: wasted food has topped the sustainability agendas of government, companies and consumers for quite some time now, but hardly any progress is being made. Wageningen University’s most recent monitor reveals that food waste remained the same between 2009 and 2016. It’s time to really buckle down.

We are looking to help ABN AMRO financed food producers, transport companies and supermarkets become more sustainable, but that does, of course, mean that we have to walk our talk. In our company restaurants in the Netherlands alone, we provide lunch to 2,500 employees every day. We are carrying out a whole range of tests and use smart technologies to reduce food waste, and have successfully cut our waste by 50% in a single quarter only. And anything we learn from this process, we’ll apply in other locations. 

How to address food waste

Probably the biggest contributions to be made are our own individual ones! In the Netherlands, various websites – e.g. Milieu Centraal (in Dutch only) – offer scores of tips and tricks to virtually eliminate the food waste in our households. A selection of three of such tips: don’t simply chuck out food that is past its sell-by date, as it often lasts a lot longer. Always take a shopping list when you go food shopping and only buy what you really need in the short term. And never fall for big sales (unless you really, really need five kilos of grapes in the next couple of days).

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Jan Raes

Jan Raes

Sustainability Advisor +31 (0)20 383 1753