Australians threw away over $10 billion worth of food in last year, wasting more food intended for consumption compared to past years, according to the 2019 Food Waste Report released by Rabobank today.
Despite the growing awareness around the need to reduce the quantity of waste going to landfill and an increasing focus on environmental sustainability, the nation has knowingly wasted millions of dollars in edible products, disposing of an additional $1.2 million worth of food in 2019 compared to 2018.
This national food waste picture aligns with data from the Food Sustainability Index from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, which ranks Australia as the fourth biggest food waster in the world, behind the USA in the number one spot, Canada and Belgium.
“Looking at the generational comparison, Baby Boomers remain the least wasteful of all Australians, throwing out only $498 of their food."
Who’s wasting precious food?
The new report claims that adults aged 18-23 from generation Z are currently Australia’s biggest food wasters, despite being regarded as a socially and environmentally aware demographic.
“Looking at the generational comparison, Baby Boomers remain the least wasteful of all Australians, throwing out only $498 of their food,” the report states.
Meanwhile, the gen Z adults surveyed binned $1,446 of food per capita purchased this year, which is $234 more than 2018.
Rabobank Australia’s head of client experience, Glenn Wealands, tells SBS that gen Z generally feels positive about the economy and their financial wellbeing. “This is contributing to a sense that food is a relatively cheap resource and can, therefore, be easily disposed of,” says Wealands.
He explains that gen Z adults may not equate a growing food waste problem with sustainability. Instead, food purchases in this group are generally a symbol of income levels where more equals better.
“Although there’s a sense of greater awareness among the younger generation around social and environmental issues, the challenge now [for gen Z is] to move from greater awareness to greater action to reduce food waste.”
Alex Elliott-Howery, co-owner of Cornersmith Cafe & Picklery situated in Sydney’s inner-west runs a cooking school that aims to reduce food waste and teach food preservation skills.
The gen-Xer tells SBS that people of all generations, including gen Z, come to the school because they care about food waste and the planet. She warns of the dangers of scapegoating any single generation for the national food waste issue.
“Young families and people may have a very hectic schedule… so food waste may be low down their priority list.”
“I think all generations when they are young tend to waste food,” says Elliott-Howery. “Young families and people may have a very hectic schedule… so food waste may be low down their priority list.”
“I feel like that needs to change but I don’t feel like we should just blame gen Z alone for this issue. They have been brought up [by older generations] with an understanding that everything is available to them all the time. Food waste is not just their problem but part of a bigger systematic problem.”
The report also reveals that Australian households make up 34 per cent of all food wasted nationwide, with each person in the house throwing away $1026 in groceries; that's equivalent to 13 per cent of a typical household’s grocery expenditure.
Meanwhile, primary producers and the manufacturing sector are responsible for 31 and 24 per cent respectively.
Why are we wasting so much food in the current era of environmental awareness?
It's likely that Australians of all age groups, not just those from gen Z, are failing to regard food waste as a sustainability issue.
The new report shows that around three in ten people understood the impact food waste has on the environment. Only four in ten Australians linked food waste to pollution and one-third recognised it increases Co² emissions.
Wealands explains the result of misunderstanding the environmental impact of food waste has led Australians to make poor purchasing and cooking decisions, while also ordering too much food for home delivery.
"These online food delivery services have jumped up about 10 per cent in the past 12 months and there’s a correlation in the report suggesting that people who tend to use those services are often the ones who are wasting more food.”
“Food waste is often due to basic things like purchasing too much, food going off in the fridge before it can be consumed or not knowing how to make the most of leftovers," he says.
“But there is also a new kid on the block: an increased appetite from consumers to utilise online food delivery services. These online food delivery services have jumped up about 10 per cent in the past 12 months and there’s a correlation in the report suggesting that people who tend to use those services are often the ones who are wasting more food.”
So what can we do about our growing food waste problem?
Wealands suggests that all Australians learn more about where our food comes from to develop a stronger appreciation for food and avoid waste.
Elliott-Howery adds that people of all generations should put in more thought about the food they buy before they go shopping.
“Make the most of the food you’ve got, learn how to cook and how to enjoy being in the kitchen – as that is what will bring about change," she says.