Trashed food estimated to contribute 6% of greenhouse gases

Israelis wasted NIS 21 billion worth of food last year, meal rescue group says

Leket Israel study finds country failing at implementing policies that could help feed 450,000 needy households by saving 1 billion tons of food fit for human consumption

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Food rescued by the Leket organization. (Courtesy)
Food rescued by the Leket organization. (Courtesy)

Israelis threw away more than 2 million tons of food last year, according to a study released Monday that found the country dead last among 18 developed countries in implementing policies to reduce food waste.

Leket Israel’s seventh annual Food Waste and Rescue Report, published in partnership with the Environmental Protection Ministry, found that Israelis wasted 2.6 million tons of food in 2021, costing NIS 21.3 billion ($6.1 billion). On average, individual households wasted NIS 3,500 ($1,000) last year on food that was eventually thrown out.

This waste was equivalent to 37 percent of food produced in Israel. Half of the food that was thrown out — amounting to over 1 million tons and costing NIS 7.5 billion ($2.14 billion) — was “salvageable and… fit for human consumption,” said the report from Leket, which fights food insecurity, including by collecting and distributing leftover foods that might otherwise be trashed.

The study examined 18 countries and found that Israel implemented the fewest number of policies aimed at tackling the phenomenon of food waste. France was ranked first.

Leket noted that food rescue programs could help mitigate high levels of food insecurity in the country — 16.2% of Israeli households, or some 450,000 homes, in 2021. Food insecurity is defined as an inability to ensure a constant supply of food that contains all the nutritional elements necessary for proper development and health.

“Rescuing just 20% of the food currently going to waste will close the entire food insecurity gap in Israel and cost only NIS 1.1 billion ($314 million),” the report said, adding that food rescue policies were a viable alternative to food production that could save money while reducing poverty.

Volunteers for Leket Israel deliver food to needy recipients, September 2020. (Courtesy Leket Israel)

Leket assessed the environmental cost of wastage at NIS 3.6 billion ($1 billion), factoring waste of land resources, water, waste collection, and processing, as well as air pollution and the emission of an estimated 5 million tons of greenhouse gases, accounting for 6% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Israel.

Outgoing Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg noted that the study was published as world leaders gathered for the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

“Food rescue and minimizing food waste are necessary actions that need to be taken to preserve Israel’s environmental, social, and economic resilience. It is crucial that the State of Israel bridge gaps to align with other OECD countries addressing the issue of food waste and rescue,” she said.

Leket CEO Gidi Kroch said he was not surprised by the findings, lamenting that past warnings by the organization had been “thrown away each year.”

“The greatest advantage of food rescue is the ability to not only close the entire food insecurity gap in Israel with a quarter of the cost, but also greater utilization of natural resources and waste prevention,” Kroch said. “Additionally, food rescue helps reduce gas emissions and pollutants and strengthens the fight against the global climate crisis.”

Leket Israel is Israel’s largest food rescue organization, salvaging nutritious surplus food and distributing it to needy people via some 200 other nonprofits.

Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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