Australia produces enough food to feed 60 million people each year, more than double the nation’s population. Yet, millions of Australians struggle to put food on their table every day. And at the same time, Australian households and businesses waste 4 million tonnes of food annually, an amount of waste that would fill the MCG six times over.
One of the greatest amounts of food waste occurs before the food leaves the farm. Every day, millions of good fruits and vegetables are thrown away due to supermarket’s strict cosmetic standards.
Major supermarkets such as Woolworths and Coles refuse to sell fruits and vegetables that don’t meet their specifications.
Bananas are Australia’s top-selling food. But only those that meet cosmetic requirements reach the shelves while millions of edible bananas go to waste because they’re too long, too short, too fat or too skinny.
Craig Reucassel in ABC’s War on Waste documentary stands on top of a mountain of bananas that are left to rot. This pile of fruit is on a farm in far north Queensland, where most of Australia’s bananas are grown.
A lot of the bananas were thrown out because of their size. Workers at the farm use measuring tapes to evaluate freshly picked fruit.
Of the 80 million bananas they produce each year, they’re forced to throw out more than 30 million.
According to the major retailers, Australians won’t buy fruit that are oddly shaped and sized. So, they blame consumers for being fussy.
A supermarket spokesperson (doesn’t want to be named) involved in the fresh produce industry said focusing on just the retailers is only telling part of the story in food waste and cosmetic standards.
“The people who create the biggest amount of waste are the customers who don’t want to buy the not so perfect fruit and vegetables, so it’s those people who the “War on Waste” TV show and petitions should be trying to change,” he said.
However, a national petition calling on the major supermarkets to stop rejecting fresh food due to strict cosmetic standards has reached great support across the country in a short period of time.
Four months ago, Katy Barber started the Change.org petition called, ‘We don’t care what size and shape our fresh food is!’
In a little over two weeks, she received nearly 120,000 signatures from Australians saying they don’t agree with strict cosmetic standards and that they will happily buy oddly shaped and sized fruit and vegetables.
Public health and food insecurity researcher and Convenor from Right to Food Coalition, Dr Rebecca Lindberg explains that Australian culture needs to change around respecting food.
“It would be really helpful if we respect food more and the environmental resources that have gone into its production,” she said.
“Australians really care about farmers so they’d like to know if they’re eating apples that are an irregular shape, it will be to the benefit of Aussie farmers.”
Leading a campaign against food waste in Australia, social and environmental justice group, Addison Road Community Centre declares a war on waste by working to introduce a law that forbids food waste in Australia.
Rosanna Barbero, Manager of Addison Road Community Centre said they want to pass a law modeled on France’s anti-food waste legislation, which bans supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food.
“We’re looking at the French law and seeing how we could tweak the law to adjust to the Australian situation,” she said.
“A law should be introduced in Australia, because I don’t think it should be up to supermarkets to volunteer. It should be mandatory because if it’s only on a voluntary basis, which is what it is at the moment, it’s not effective enough. There’s still a lot of food waste.”
Dr Lindberg said there’s a growing consciousness around food waste in Australia. “It could be a really good time for legislative action,” she said.
“The upside is we only have two major retailers. If you get them on board, you’re going to have a profound impact on the system.”
Ms Barbero explains how using consumer’s power to end food wastage can be effective.
“Consumers hold the power because it’s their dollars that make decisions about what they buy and how they buy things. So, there’s power in being a consumer and getting consumers to exercise that power is very important. You start by changing consumer’s habits of demanding that fruit and vegetables look a certain way but rather look at where they were grown and how they were delivered,” she said.
While Ms Barbero also believes consumers are one part of the reason why food waste occurs, she refuses to play the blame game and suggests responsibility instead.
“This is not about pointing the finger, it’s not about blame but it’s about responsibility to divert organic waste from landfill and also to ensure that it is diverted to those who are in need.”
And it’s not just farmers and supermarkets that are throwing out food. Another big problem is the wasteful attitudes of householders.
“We know that food waste occurs from paddock to plate. And absolutely there’s food being wasted at the retail end in Australia but householders waste food as well,” said Dr Lindberg.
“We have a culture of how we kind of think about food as being completely replaceable and that culture influences everything from the growing of food all the way to how we treat it in our household and at every single juncture in the food system.”
Food waste is seriously damaging the environment. When food rots with other organics in landfill, it releases greenhouse gases 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide that comes out of your car.
“When you’ve got so much of food going into landfill, then it releases toxic gases that contribute to climate change”, said Ms Barbero.
“[Food waste] doesn’t make sense in any way when you’ve got that level of destruction and consequences.”
Despite all this food being wasted, there are over 2 million Australians seeking food relief every year.
Ms Barbero said the level of inequality that exists between those who are suffering from food insecurity and those who are food secure is only increasing.
“Food insecurity lives side by side with an abundance of food,” she said.
“A lot of university students dumpster dive because they’re not eating well and they can’t afford to eat three meals a day. Lots of kids go to school hungry. It is disgraceful and against humanity, that in a rich country like Australia, there is so much food insecurity.”
“The gap is looking increasingly bigger and bigger between those that have food and those that don’t.”
The Addison Road Community Centre organization is also running the Food Pantry where they supply affordable rescued food to those in need. The Food Pantry provides good food that would otherwise go to waste.
However Ms Barbero said running the Food Pantry is not an ideal situation because it means there’s a problem with food equality in Australia.
“An ideal situation for the Addison Rd Community Centre is when all food pantries close down because it means everyone is going to be at an egalitarian standard of living and there won’t be such a divide,” she said.
The Addison Road Community Centre is on a mission to achieve food justice in Australia by eliminating hunger and food waste with their campaign to pass anti-food waste laws in Australia.