Israelis waste enormous amounts of food every year and reducing those figures requires a national effort, said a year-end report by the country’s leading food rescue organization.
The annual National Food Waste and Rescue Report for 2020, released earlier this week, was written by Leket Israel in partnership with the Environmental Protection Ministry.
The consequences of the massive food waste are wide-ranging, according to the findings. From affecting climate change to the cost of living, there is no doubt that change is needed fast. The reduction of food waste is beneficial for the environment and the economy, while also benefiting society by reducing poverty and inequality.
The report says the estimated cost of food waste in Israel in 2020 stood at about $6 billion, and a total of 2.5 tons of food, of which about half could have been saved, were thrown away.
Israel is not unique in its food waste tendencies. Most developed countries are wasting food on the same scale. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates a staggering one-third of the world’s food production is wasted annually.
Food is wasted throughout the stages of production, from growing crops to their sale in supermarkets. And it is not only the private consumer who is throwing out expired cheese that could still be eaten or the less appealing, aging cucumber.
Israel’s food expenditure rate is considered relatively high among the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with families spending 17% to 20% of the consumption basket on food. In addition, Israel has one of the highest poverty rates in the OECD, making food security a major issue and food waste a problem that needs to be addressed.
“Food insecurity in Israel has increased, so there are populations which suffer a shortage,” Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket Israel, said. “The amount of waste is unimaginable, there is no room for such waste. We are throwing away twice the amount of food of what is needed in order to bridge this gap.”
Food waste also has a major impact on the environment. The cost of producing excess amounts of food which is wasted in the end is estimated at over $1 million. The land is required to grow and store crops, precious square miles that the country needs in order to deal with a major housing crisis. The equivalent of 56 Olympic-size pools of water is wasted every year by a country that has an arid climate and deals with drought every few years. Landfills for the waste pollute the soil and also emit gasses that pollute the air, including harmful methane gas. The crops also waste precious land that could be used for parks, open areas, or new apartments.
Food production plays a major role in the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, which the world is aiming to reduce. Reducing food waste is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and this waste is seen as responsible for approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“It all adds up to the excess use of energy, use of land, and waste of natural resources,” said Kroch. This all contributes to rising temperatures around the world. The collective effort to limit global temperature rise was the main focus of the recent Glasgow Climate Change Conference.
The complexity of food waste and rescue has Kroch, and others, calling for a major governmental plan to tackle the matter.
“There is no national, comprehensive plan, there is no plan that directly deals with saving food,” Kroch said “This is an urgent, strategic matter at a national level.” Food rescue needs to be a national policy and the solution needs to be an integrated one, according to experts.
“This hasn’t been defined by the state as a national crisis that has to be dealt with urgently,” Professor Ofira Ayalon, an expert on environmental and waste management policy at the University of Haifa, said. “There is a wide range of possibilities with regulatory and informative tools that can be used.”
“The report clearly shows the problem is only worsening every year, there is no improvement in any part of the supply chain,” she said.
Founded in 2003, Leket has been at the forefront of rescuing surplus food in Israel. Along with other non-government organizations trying to prevent waste, it is dependent on philanthropists and gets no state funding.
“When the government doesn’t invest money, this means the state isn’t really interested in the matter,” said Kroch. “This is very grave. I cannot save all that can be saved, we need government support.”
“There is increasing interest, but I am not sure how much they are willing to do,” he added. “A lot of money is needed and I do not see it being prioritized at this point in time.”
Food waste is a multifaceted problem that cannot be dealt with only by the Environmental Protection Ministry.
“This is not only their territory,” Ayalon said. “For years, the ministry has been unsuccessful in dealing with waste and for the last two decades has not managed to make a substantial or radical change in the matter.”
Ayalon is critical of the ministry, saying that while it has been a partner in writing the reports, there has been no substantive action.
“They do not have a working plan and have not been active in the legislature,” she said. “Reports don’t create policy and there is no policy.” There has been legislation to tackle certain aspects of food waste, but the problem is far from being solved, as the latest report shows.
Leket deals with rescuing fresh agricultural produce. It also offers nutrition and consumption workshops that aim to teach people how to choose products and how to consume them for longer.
With climate change increasingly on the agenda, there is more openness to address the problem of food waste. “People are thirsty for information and want to know how they can help, even on an individual level. But there is no leadership on these issues and this is visibly lacking,” said Kroch.
“There are so many things to do,” said Ayalon. “There is legislation, incentives, sanctions, taxation on individual waste – it is very complex.”
Calls for a single body to concentrate on a national effort have yet to be heeded. Israel’s innovative tech sector could play a major role in the effort. Educating the public to consume and waste less also is important. But for all of this to happen, a decision to tackle food waste on a national level needs to be made. Israel is not there yet, experts say.
For now, the actions, or lack of action, by the government gives little hope that next year’s Leket report will show any improvement.
The story was written by Keren Setton and republished with permission from The Media Line