Australia is looking to improve its enormous food waste problem, starting with a new national strategy and with help from RMIT researchers.
An international leader in reducing food waste, Associate Professor Karli Verghese talks to us about the Federal Government's National Food Waste Strategy, how she was involved and what’s next for dealing with food waste.
What do the stats say about the problem of food waste in Australia?
Up to 30 per cent of food grown for human consumption is lost at farms or wasted through the supply chain, including households. It’s estimated to be a $20 billion issue for Australia, with 50 per cent of that from waste generated in households.
We also know that 29 per cent of Australians leave food on their plate when they eat out, leaving on average around 21 per cent of their meal. The main reason? Too much food is served. Globally, food waste is a $1 trillion dollar issue!
Why do we need a national strategy to tackle this issue, rather than something more local?
We need a national strategy to provide an overarching framework to help establish a coordinated response to food waste across the States and Territories.
Australia signed up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Target 12.3: to halve food waste by 50 per cent by 2030. The strategy aims to deliver against this target.
How have you been involved in developing the strategy?
RMIT food waste researcher Dianne McGrath and I were invited to be panel members of the Roundtable on the Food Waste Strategy, hosted by the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg in April 2017.
We were also invited members of the advisory and working groups set up to provide input into the development of the strategy, with Dianne chairing one of the advisory boards.
Tell us about the DIRECT project and why it was used as case study in the strategy?
DIRECT (Dynamic Industry Resource Efficiency Calculation Tool) was developed at RMIT by Simon Lockrey, Maud Rio and I between 2012 and 2014 and funded by Sustainability Victoria.
DIRECT calculates the 'true cost of waste' - not just the cost of the disposal of waste - but all the resources, energy, water, labour etc. that are spent and contribute to making products that are lost when processes are inefficient.
It has subsequently been used in a research project with Visy Industries and another project which started in September 2017. It was also selected as a case study in the national strategy to illustrate a local technological solution that can help businesses increase their understanding and analysis of resource efficiency within their supply chains.
We have the strategy, what's next?
The strategy identifies the key areas to focus on, in particular policy, business improvements, market development and behaviour change. The federal government now needs to implement it and in collaboration with State/Territory governments, industry, not-for-profits and consumers, deliver upon the goal of reducing food waste in Australia by 50 per cent by 2030.
One initiative we are hoping will support the strategy is the "Fight Food Waste and Fraud" Co-Operative Research Centre (CRC) bid, which is currently being developed. CRC is a national research centre funded by the Australian Government, in collaboration with industry and research partners.
In August 2017, I was also invited to be a panel member to the Victorian Environment Minister’s Food Waste Roundtable where I presented ideas and opportunities for the State Government to focus on. Led by Sustainability Victoria they have developed a summary document, including priority areas for action going forward.