Aussies threw out more food than ever last year and it's costing us billions


You may have heard of upcycling clothes, furniture and furnishings - taking an article and repairing it, adding to it, and otherwise turning something that might have been destined for landfill into a new item just for you.

But how about food upcycling? Could repurposing otherwise good produce help with our burgeoning food waste problem as well as creating new products that meet consumers' demands for sustainable goods?

Vanessa Murillo started the Queensland-based I Am Grounded, a social enterprise that produces a snack bar that upcycles coffee fruit, which is normally wasted in the harvest of the coffee bean.

how to save money by wasting less food

"Coffee fruit is a called a cherry, and it has a tart-like flavour," says Murillo. "The seeds are used for coffee brewing after being processed ...the fruit itself is a discarded by-product, as well as the leaves, flowers etc. The fruit is used as fertiliser in some farms, but because it's of such a large production scale, it is dumped."

Runoff from decomposing cherry fruit can leach into waterways and can affect soil quality as well. I Am Grounded developed a means to create an extract from coffee fruit in Colombia, which is then manufactured into the bars, which are sold wholesale as well as distributed through retail outlets in Australia.

Murillo and her family are originally from Colombia and immigrated to Australia. Murillo's family was involved in coffee in Colombia and in Australia, so her passion for coffee from berry to cup is inherited.

"There are three big challenges," Murillo said. "The first is obviously giving access to technology to farmers, the second is to educate consumers on the fact that coffee is a fruit that can be consumed and it can be used by farmers to create other products. The third is to look at how we need to feed ourselves and create better food systems. That seeps into a call to change the way our food is growing, a call to empower a use of by-products that can be upcycled."

Food waste is a problem that has only gotten worse through COVID-19, according to Rabobank Australia.

Rabobank Australia released its 2020 Food Waste Report, which surveyed Australians in March and again in September. The 2020 result showed a leap in food waste sent to landfill, after previously making progress in waste reduction.

By September, the average household was shown to waste 12.7% of the food they buy, totalling $10.3 billion nationally. The dollar value of food waste also hit an all-time high, reaching $1043 per year per household, reflecting a greater weekly food spend during lockdown months.

The research shows that Australians were making positive inroads to reducing food waste before the pandemic hit, with food wastage dropping almost two percentage points from an average of 12.9% of food purchased in 2019 to 11.1% in early 2020.

"We did a piece of work leading up to just prior to COVID-19, where the where the estimate of household food waste bill was down to $8.4 billion," said Glenn Wealands, head of client experience for Rabobank Australia. "The general trend showed things were heading in the right direction, and all the work done around building awareness and the general desire of consumers to do the right thing and the realisation that things that waste or impact negatively on the planet are detrimental."

The average household is wasting nearly 13% of the groceries they buy and also spending more on food delivery and self-prepared food services. Rabobank Australia reported almost 10% of households increased their spending on food to stockpile items in case supply ran out during lockdown.

Rabobank Australia's research also shows that more than three quarters of Australians care about reducing waste, with 78% annoyed when they see food wasted and 64% wanting people to think about the impact on the environment. A smaller group is concerned with the connection between food waste and wider environmental impacts such as climate change (24%), the loss of animals/extinction (21%), water shortages (16%), and pollution (12%).

The report noted that 7.3 million tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year across the supply chain, and of that 7.3 million, 2.4 million tonnes comes from households.

"A third of waste is directly attributable to individual and household, with two-thirds coming through the complete supply chain," Wealands said. "That says it's a shared responsibility for all, at every level from federal state and local governments, to the work that many farmers are doing about how do we create more innovative processes to be able to lose less through production, and clearly an increase in innovation and increase from those in the supply chain to consider things like food banks, repurposing of food waste so it doesn't end in landfill."

To encourage innovation in cutting food waste, Rabobank sponsors the FoodBytes! food and agriculture innovation platform, which features a start-up pitch program that leads to the selection of 45 innovators. I Am Grounded is one of those 45 innovators.

"The FoodBytes! Program is providing a lot of support and mentorship to us," Morillo said. "They're connecting us with investors, corporates and mentors in the food space."

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Rachel Alembakis is the Managing Editor of FS Sustainability, a Rainmaker title that examines how investors and companies integrate environmental, social and corporate governance issues into their decision-making processes. She has more than a decade's experience covering investment issues for a range of publications in Australia and overseas. Rachel hosts the ESG podcast, The Greener Way.