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World Food Day: South Africa’s Food Waste Problem Continues

  • 4 min read

With millions of citizens going to bed hungry every night, it is frightening to think that a third of edible food in SA goes to waste. Better waste management across the full value chain help overcome this.

It is incredible to think that, in a country where some 9.34 million people suffer from acute food insecurity, approximately one third of all local food production per annum is wasted. According to the Department of Science and Innovation and the CSIR, this amounts to an estimated 10.3 million tonnes of food and beverages, or some 34.3% of all food production, not being used.

These horrifying numbers indicate why the government has made a global commitment to halve food waste in the country by 2030. However, it has noted that these targets can only be achieved with innovation in the waste management and food production industries.

It is imperative, states Kate Stubbs, Director of Business Development at Interwaste, that companies in the sector find ways to implement better and more sustainable waste management solutions. In other words, she adds, we need to evolve beyond the disposal model.

“Agricultural and food production companies must examine ways to reduce waste and simultaneously, the waste management industry needs to provide alternative and sustainable solutions to recover or reuse food waste, while solutions relating to composting, anaerobic digestion and bio-remediation can at least help in reducing the waste going to landfills,” she says.

This approach would be in line with government’s strategic priority to minimise waste to landfill by 45% by 2025. In fact, it has identified food waste and loss as a critical area that requires intervention.

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy, has stated that government is reviewing existing legislation and developing new policy instruments for better management of food waste, and to encourage and inspire innovation in the waste management and food production sectors.

A Draft Food Loss and Waste Strategy is under development, which, she says, will increase awareness of the impact of food waste; align with waste economy initiatives; strongly integrate different disciplinary perspectives and best practices; and map out the determinants of food waste generation, in order to design food waste prevention strategies.

Waste is often an indicator of how efficient a system is, notes Stubbs, who adds that a third of all food not being used speaks to a massive inefficiency in the system.

“However, it will take real social change to address the plight of food waste in the country and to drive effective and sustainable alternative solutions. A key part of this lies in embedding this knowledge within government, businesses and households, through effective waste management education.”

“Such education is critical, as at present, South Africa’s food waste per capita is some 12 kilograms per year of food that is produced, but never consumed, and thus ends up in landfills. It is crucial to significantly reduce this rate of waste, as doing so will not only help to reduce hunger and malnutrition in our population but also the negative environmental impacts of greenhouse gas emissions,” she says.

Stubbs adds that citizens must develop a shared interest in managing food waste appropriately, and ultimately change their attitudes and behaviours to respect food.

“Some ways to increase this respect for food include: more clearly understanding the journey from farm to plate, which will help people to value our food more; understanding date labels such as ‘sell by’ – which is information for the grocer – and that food past this date is generally still good to eat for a few days; and undertaking better meal planning and stock checking before going shopping, so you only buy what you need.”

“By the same token, avoid ‘buy one, get one free’ promotions, and when cooking, you should also measure portions carefully, so you don’t serve more than can be eaten, and should freeze leftovers for later use. Finally, store your fresh produce where it is easy to see, on eye-level shelves in the fridge or on countertops, so it doesn’t get forgotten and end up going to waste,” she concludes.