Reducing food waste can delay Earth Overshoot Day

‘In your kitchen you take a serious step towards a better world.’ This is written by Patricia De Clercq, secretary general in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, on the occasion of World Overshoot Day.

This year, Earth Overshoot Day falls on July 28. It is the date when mankind has used all the natural resources that the earth can produce in a year. Food is an area where each of us can act: from farmer to citizen, from processor to retailer. Food is too precious to waste. In your kitchen, you take a serious step towards a better world.

The Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day each year by dividing the planet’s biocapacity – Earth’s sustainable production capacity – by humanity’s ecological footprint. In 2020, the day did not fall until August 22 when our shared consumption was at a lower level due to global lockdowns and corona measures. In 2021 it was again work as usual and the day fell on the 29th of July. This year it is even a day earlier. We will be living on credit for the next few months. By the end of the year, we will have consumed a total of 1.75 of the Earth’s resources. If everyone lived like us Belgians, Earth Overshoot Day would even fall on March 26 and we would need four planets to live up to our standard of living.

Moving Earth Overshoot Day can start in your kitchen

Treating food differently can make a difference. After all, the production of food, from farm to table, involves the use of many raw materials and energy and the emission of greenhouse gases. We eat every day to meet our energy needs. We cannot live without our daily bread. But our current diet is often not in line with a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, for people and for the planet. The food triangle of the Flemish Institute for Healthy Living contains clear recommendations. Eat and drink as few empty calories as possible. Choose plant-based foods more often: fruits and vegetables (preferably in season), legumes, whole grains and nuts. Moderate your consumption and avoid food waste.

Who can say that he or she never wastes food? On hot summer days, there is often too much left in the fruit basket or vegetable drawer. You have bought far too much for the cozy barbecue with friends. Before you go on a trip, you forget to use up the stock. Research from GfK from 2018 shows that a Flemish person throws away an average of 37 kg of food and drinks per year. 66% of this is solid food, primarily bread and cakes, fruit, vegetables and potato products, 34% consists of more or less liquid products: soup, dairy products, coffee, tea and other drinks. By buying and storing food in a thoughtful way, together we can bring back this mountain of 37 kg of food.

Food is lost not only in households, but also in the field of the farmer, at food processing companies, in the store and the restaurant. Therefore, food loss has been on the Flemish government’s radar for some time now. The new action plan for food loss was published in 2021. The aim is to reduce food loss, from farm to table, by 30% by 2025 or to utilize it in a higher quality compared to 2015. Flanders’ Public Waste Agency (OVAM) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries works closely with 25 partners from the entire food chain. The first priority is to prevent food loss. This is possible through collaborative projects within product chains, sector-specific programmes, integrated efforts in the hotel and catering industry, retail and catering and support from food waste innovators. If there are food surpluses, they are donated to social organizations and food banks using social distribution platforms. Food losses that occur despite the preventive actions take on a second life. We collect them selectively for high quality valuation. We can transform these streams into animal feed, bio-based material, fertilizers, soil conditioners or biofuels. The goal is to use food waste as much as possible for human consumption and not let anything go to waste.

We are currently preparing the Flemish food strategy in collaboration with a broad food coalition, consisting of representatives from the agri-food chain, civil society, research and policy, which we want to present in November 2022. One of the goals: to minimize food loss across the chain and to use food waste of the highest quality possible. . Technological solutions, adapted behaviour, citizen involvement and an appropriate policy can contribute to this.

A lot is already happening in all parts of the chain, but what prevents us, the consumer, from taking our own responsibility?

What is already happening in practice today? Actions are underway in all parts of the chain, but I would like to mention some good practices in the potato, fruit and vegetable sector. Did you know that about 95% of the potatoes grown for the fresh market end up with the consumer? This is due to optimized harvesting techniques and close cooperation between growers, packers and processors. 80% is packaged and sold to the consumer, 15% is processed into puree, chips or croquettes. The unsold potatoes find their way through supermarkets to food banks or social enterprises. The few surpluses are used as animal feed or processed into biogas. Of the annual supply of one million tonnes of fruit and vegetables at the auctions, 98% is sold to both the fresh produce market and industry. The remaining 2% is donated to food banks or processed into animal feed or used in composting or biogas plants.

I would also like to refer to the European ZeroW project, in which the Flanders Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Research (ILVO), Boerenbond, Food Bank Limburg and OVAM participate. The project group investigates the ecological and economic sustainability of solutions without food loss and waste. The mobile processing of fruit and vegetables is an innovation that is being researched in Flanders.

A lot is already happening, but what prevents us, the consumer, from taking responsibility ourselves? In your kitchen, you take a serious step towards a better world. I would like to offer some useful tips to limit waste. Plan meals and shopping carefully. Make a shopping list and don’t buy impulsively. Organize your fridge and pantry. Store food correctly. Get creative with leftovers. Look at the best before date and use your senses. Serve decent portions. More information can be found at Planet Earth will thank you!

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