Although there is currently no food waste-specific reporting system, according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study, Irish businesses waste a staggering amount of food each year. The study estimates that approximately 1.1 million tonnes of food are wasted annually, with most of this waste occurring in the retail and hospitality sectors.
Let’s first have a look at the problem in general, and then at the businesses that produce the most food waste in Ireland.
What is food waste?
Simply put, food waste is discarded or uneaten food. This can include food thrown away at the consumer level and food lost or discarded at the production, distribution, and retail levels.
Why do we waste so much food?
Food waste can occur for various reasons, including;
- Cosmetic standards
- Consumer demand for perfect-looking produce
- Inadequate storage
- Transportation infrastructure
What are the impacts of food waste?
Food waste has many negative impacts on both the environment and society. Some of the significant impacts include:
- environmental: food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the water, land, and energy used to produce & transport wasted food can also have a negative impact on the environment
- economic: food waste is a significant waste of resources, including water, land, labour, and money
- social: food waste can contribute to global food insecurity, as wasted food could be used to feed people in need
- public health: food waste can impact public health – it can lead to a lack of access to nutritious food, which can contribute to diet-related health issues such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
- landfill: food waste in landfills can lead to methane emissions that harm air, water, and soil quality.
So, who wastes the most food?
Looking at which industry wastes the most food, the retail and hospitality sectors are responsible for approximately 45%.
Image by EPA (Source: epa.ie)
In retail, supermarkets and grocery stores contribute the most to food waste, approximately 25%. Primarily this occurs due to overstocking, overproduction, and strict cosmetic standards for produce. For example, supermarkets often reject fruits and vegetables that do not meet specific size or colour requirements, even though they are perfectly safe to eat.
The hospitality sector, including restaurants, hotels, and catering companies, also plays a significant role in food waste – approximately 20%. Most of this waste occurs in kitchen operations due to overproduction, poor inventory management, and a lack of understanding of properly storing and using food.
In addition to the retail and hospitality sectors, the agricultural sector also contributes significantly to food waste. This includes waste that occurs during crop production, harvesting, and transportation. For example, many crops are left unharvested due to a lack of market demand, or they may be rejected due to cosmetic imperfections.
It is worth mentioning that consumers also play a role in food waste. The amount of food wasted varies depending on the region and country, but globally, it is estimated that around one-third of all food produced is wasted.
In developed countries, a significant amount of food waste occurs due to overbuying or not planning meals properly, with around 40-50% of food waste happening in the household.
How can Irish businesses reduce food waste?
Overall, food waste is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires a holistic approach to address effectively. Not only is this food waste a significant economic loss for Irish businesses, but as mentioned above, it also has a significant environmental impact.
To combat food waste, there are several steps that Irish businesses can take. For example, implementing better inventory management practices, such as forecasting demand and reducing overproduction, can help reduce food waste in the retail and hospitality sectors. Additionally, implementing composting and food recovery programs can help divert food waste from landfills and instead put it to good use.
Another essential step is for businesses to adopt the “first in, first out” principle when it comes to food storage. This means that older products should be used before newer products to ensure that the food is not wasted due to spoilage.
In addition, businesses can also work with local organizations and food banks to donate surplus food to those in need. This not only helps to reduce food waste but also positively impacts the community by providing meals to those who may not otherwise have access to them.
How about us, the consumers? How can we prevent food waste?
It is important to note that reducing and preventing food waste requires changes in consumer behaviour, not just in policies, regulations, and business practices.
So, how can individuals and households best help to reduce food waste? Here are a few suggestions:
- plan meals and make a grocery list to ensure that you only buy what you need
- shop smarter by buying only what you need and avoid overbuying
- store food properly
- use leftovers
- be aware of expiration dates
- start a compost pile in your garden or use a compost bin to convert food scraps into fertilizer for your garden
- donate surplus food to food banks, shelters and other organisations that serve people in need
- educate others, especially children, on the importance of food waste reduction
How can The Fruit People help Irish businesses reduce food waste
Along with our suppliers, The Fruit People has worked hard over the years to ensure we reduce our food waste. All of our produce and supplies are ethically and sustainably sourced. We’ve been carbon neutral since 2019, and we take the utmost care to collect organic waste and convert it into biofuels.
We believe in switching to Zero Waste and in having a sustainable development goal to a zero-waste office. When we chat with our clients, we ensure we understand their needs exactly, which not only helps them reduce waste but also allows us to understand how much fruit, vegetable, snacks, and beverages to stock.
Get in touch with us if you are thinking about reducing the food waste your business generates. And, if you are one of our existing customers, watch our video tutorials to find out how to update your recurring orders.
Read our 5 Top Zero Waste Office Tips & Ideas article to see what measures you can take or let us help you make your workplace zero-waste!