Some 2.5 million tons of wasted food in 2020 cost the country NIS 19.1 billion ($6 billion), or the average household NIS 3,600 (US $1,140), according to Leket Israel’s 6th annual Food Waste and Rescue Report, published in partnership with the Environmental Protection Ministry on Monday.
This waste accounted for 35 percent of the food produced in Israel. Half of it was edible and could have been resold.
The cost to the environment was an additional NIS 3.4 billion ($1 billion), the study found, when waste of land resources, water, waste collection, and processing was taken into account, as well as air pollution and the emission of an estimated 5 million tons of greenhouse gases, accounting for 6 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Israel.
In total, just under one in five (18.7%) of Israeli households suffered from food insecurity last year, equivalent to half a million households, Leket found.
Food insecurity has been defined as the inability to ensure a constant supply of food that contains all the nutritional elements necessary for proper development and health.
A different report, issued earlier this month by the Israeli aid organization Latet, estimated that around 630,000 households suffer from food insecurity, including some 300,000 experiencing it to a severe extent. These households include close to 800,000 children under 18 years of age.
Monday’s study by Leket Israel, which rescues nutritious surplus food and distributes it to needy people via some 200 other nonprofits, found that the COVID-19 crisis did not bring any significant changes in total food waste compared with previous years, but changed the way that waste was distributed.
With more people at home, household food waste increased by NIS 800 million ($255 million) compared to 2019, while in the agricultural sector, it also went up, mainly during the first lockdown, due to a shortage of workers, export restrictions on agricultural produce, and the closure of hotels, restaurants and employee cafeterias.
In institutions such as hotels and workplaces, waste declined by around half to NIS 2.2 billion ($700 million), compared with the year before.
In April 2020, at the height of the crisis, about 1.2 million workers left the workforce. During the year, some 825,000 workers experienced income loss. After deducting government COVID-19 grants, the report’s researchers concluded that an additional 150,000 people joined the ranks of the food insecure, while those already in need suffered even more.
Thanks to lockdowns, the shift to remote school studies in capsules, and the days students spent in isolation, around 60 million fewer meals were distributed at educational institutions.
Soup kitchens were also impacted, particularly during the first lockdown, with NIS 900 million ($285 million) less spent on food than in 2019.
The report takes issue with the previous government’s decision to give stipends to the entire population, saying it would have made more sense to focus support on the needy and would have been more economically efficient to fund food distribution programs rather than having every family buy food for itself.
“The increase in food waste and the widening of the food-insecurity gap that occurred during the year of the pandemic reinforce the need to use food rescue as one of the national policy tools,” the report concludes, calling for the setting of a national target to cut food waste by half by the end of the decade.
Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket Israel, called on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to lead the creation of an inter-ministerial food rescue plan.
Chen Herzog, Chief Economist at BDO Consulting and editor of the report, called it “economic folly” that no national food rescue policy was formulated during a year in which 150,000 people joined the ranks of the food insecure.
“Food waste prevention and food rescue are economic, social, and environmental policy tools,” he went on, adding, “Without formulating a national plan to rescue food and prevent food waste, we will not meet the climate goals and declarations of the (United Nations COP26) Glasgow (Environmental) Conference to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the field of waste.”