Israelis throw away 4.2 billion meals annually, while 400,000 families go hungry

National Food Waste Reduction Day tries to raise awareness, change the way we look at food

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Some 4.2 billion meals go into the garbage every year. (Courtesy Leket)
Some 4.2 billion meals go into the garbage every year. (Courtesy Leket)

Next time you are scraping leftover food off the dinner plates into the trash, think of this: Each year, Israelis dump the equivalent of some 4.2 billion meals into the garbage while some 400,000 families in the country do not have enough to eat.

Half of all the food that is discarded is perfectly suitable for human consumption.

When we throw it away, we chuck away an average of $900 per year per family, which is roughly equivalent to a household’s monthly spending on food.

And if the social and economic costs are not enough to jolt you, consider that when that food reaches the landfill, it helps to contribute to around ten percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions globally.

So think again: Did you buy too much food? Can you store, freeze or use the leftovers in another dish? Can you give some to guests to take home? Can you donate store-bought food whose shelf life is about to expire? Can you just cut off the mushy bit of the cucumber and eat the rest? How can you better plan your shopping so that you have less waste next time?

National Food Waste Reduction Day

The shocking truth about food waste — in which Israel is no different from other Western nations — and ways to bring it down were spelled out both on and offline to hundreds of thousands of Israelis on Thursday, as part of the second annual National Food Waste Reduction Day.

Food waste goes into the trash. (World Economic Forum screenshot)

Dozens of local organizations, businesses and municipalities — among them Facebook Israel, the Aroma coffeehouse chain and the defense company Elbit — were raising the issue with their employees.

The Education Ministry called on all schools to devote a lesson to the subject and the students’ association at Haifa’s Technion — Israel Institute of Technology was pushing the message out to thousands of students.

The campaign, aiming to reach two million people this year, is the brainchild of the Israeli branch of The Natural Step, a not-for-profit organization devoted to increasing sustainability. The organization chose the date, March 12, to draw attention to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 12.3, which calls for global food waste to be cut by half by 2030.

Adopt an ugly vegetable

In Israel, some 2.5 million tons (5.5 million pounds) of food worth around NIS 19.75 billion ($5.63 billion) is dumped annually, along the production chain, according to data collected by Leket — a not-for-profit organization that rescues surplus healthy food and distributes it to the needy.

Assuming that an average meal weighs around 600 grams (1.3 lbs) — whether it is meat, apples, or peanut butter — this waste equals around 4.2 billion meals.

An oddly shaped pepper that would not make the supermarket grade. (Screenshot)

The waste includes 700,000 tons (1.5 million pounds) of fruit and vegetables. A third of it is already destroyed by the farmers, often because it is funkily shaped or colored and does not confirm to retailers’ aesthetic requirements. The destruction starts at the picking, sorting and storage stages, and continues at the packaging and food processing plants, wholesale markets and logistics centers, retail outlets and consumers’ homes.

Not only could these wasted fruits and vegetables provide healthy meals. Dumping them also wastes the water, fertilizer, pesticides and work hours invested in growing them.

The catering sector alone throws away the cooked food equivalent of 65 million meals annually, according to Leket research. In this case, the money spent on growing the food must be augmented by transport, production, energy, pollution, and other costs.

Some 4.2 billion meals go into the garbage every year. (Courtesy Leket)

The equivalent of around five million of these catered meals is collected and distributed to the needy, by Leket and other smaller organizations. But it is a relative drop in the ocean.

‘NIS 3 billion would solve food insecurity, yet we dump NIS 20 billion’

“Around 1.8 million Israelis, 800,000 of whom are children, are food insecure, according to the National Insurance Institute,” says Leket’s CEO, Gidi Kroch. “Around NIS 3 billion ($857 billion) would ensure that these people are properly fed. And yet as a country, we’re throwing away NIS 20 billion a year, which is nearly seven times what is needed. It’s a massive market failure that requires government intervention.”

Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket Israel, with “rescued” food that because of a blemish or cosmetic issue would have been sent to the trash. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Added Kroch, “These figures are unforgivable in 2020, and in a country as small as Israel where we can reach every corner in a day.”

The Natural Step’s Israeli branch spent three years mapping the food system in Israel to identify the most problematic areas, the conflicting interests and the opportunities for change. It brought together more than 40 organizations from government, business, academia, not-for-profit organizations, professional organizations and others to try to understand and analyze the problem in the country.

Its research revealed how much food is wasted along the production chain: 13% during agriculture, 2% during transport, 30% during food processing, 5% each at the retail and catering stages and 45% in the home.

Its conclusion, according to Michal Bitterman, the Israeli branch’s CEO and co-founder, is that the main cause for waste is “blindness….When we change the way that we look at things, things start to change.”

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פורסם על ידי ‏‎World Economic Forum‎‏ ב- יום רביעי, 15 בינואר 2020

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