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Environmental and social impacts of food waste

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Wasting food means wasting the resources used to produce it.

Food waste has an environmental impact caused by the loss of natural resources used to produce the food and the greenhouse gas emissions created during its production and disposal. The fact that food is wasted while there are people in need means it also has a social impact. And, if your business is wasting food, you're missing an opportunity to position your business as being socially responsible.

Business food waste has a direct economic impact due to the operational costs of waste disposal and because of the potential profit loss caused by throwing away saleable or edible food. The economic impact of food waste is discussed further in the benefits of avoiding food waste section.

Environmental impacts

In NSW, food waste from both business and households is most commonly sent to landfill for disposal. The problem with food waste going to landfill is that when organic waste (including food waste) breaks down it results in the production of methane – a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

National greenhouse inventory data suggests that landfill contributes two per cent (or ~11MT CO2-e/annum, after gas capture) of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions. For every tonne of food waste not sent to landfill, 0.9 tonnes of CO2-e is saved. That's a saving of almost one for one.

Our food supply chain is responsible for approximately 23 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions – second only to coal fired power stations. This includes direct emissions from agriculture (16 per cent of total national emissions), as well as the emissions attributed to energy, transport, food production, processing and distribution.

In addition, natural resources are used to produce, harvest, transport, process, package, and distribute food products. Water, in particular, is used in vast amounts to grow fruit, vegetables, cereals and grains and to support livestock.

When food is wasted, the energy and resources that go into producing that food are also wasted. That's why simply reducing the food waste generated by your business can have such a positive environmental impact.


Social impacts

Businesses can create positive social outcomes by donating unsold food to charities that support people in need.

Currently, charities only collect a small portion of the food that is potentially available and it isn't enough to meet demand. In 2009 Foodbank distributed 19,000 tonnes of food throughout Australia – much less than its national target, which is set at 50,000 tonnes for 2013.

OzHarvest collects around 1,700 tonnes of food (equivalent to 5.7 million meals) annually from 800 businesses in Sydney alone and has expanded into Newcastle, Wollongong, Canberra and Adelaide. OzHarvest has delivered over 10 million meals to people in need using food that would otherwise have been sent to landfill.

Another food rescue charity is SecondBite. SecondBite has a focus on fresh produce, with 75% of the 880 tonnes of food they redistributed in 2010 being fresh fruit and vegetables. SecondBite provides a delivery model of service to agencies. This is an innovative model of food rescue that facilitates the redistribution of surplus food from local food donors directly to local community groups anywhere in Australia.

Donating food to charities is an excellent way to promote your business, enhancing your business reputation and keeping food waste out of landfill. Donating food is easy too – find out how through the food donation tool kit.

Please note that food donations are subject to the requirements of the NSW Food Authority.

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