No time to waste

Ms Ronni Kahn , CEO and Founder of OzHarvest

Come on Australia!  When it comes to our national food waste, we can and must do so much better than this.

I have been fighting food waste for thirteen years. Since noticing the mountain of food being wasted by the hospitality industry and my lightbulb moment to actually do something about it, my life has been dedicated to finding ways to stop good food going to waste and get it to hungry people – of which there are over 3 million in Australia and around 800 million globally.

This is a serious issue which costs billions of dollars and has a huge impact on the environment. When I tell people that if food waste were a country it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gas after China and the United States, it genuinely blows them away.

OzHarvest put national food waste on the Government’s agenda back in June 2015 under former Environment Minister Greg Hunt, and we have been biting at their heels since then. Along with the introduction of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a national target to halve food waste by 2030 was set and conversations began (slowly).

Fast forward two and a half years to the launch of the Government’s National Food Waste Strategy in Melbourne last Monday. Despite being part of many positive conversations, advisory groups, presentations, international benchmarking and numerous phone calls, the end result for me was seriously underwhelming. It appeared more like a tick the box exercise, rather than a plan to inspire action.

Halving food waste is a big job and will require change at all levels of society and across the food supply chain, but the clock is ticking and 12 years goes extremely quickly. The UK have already spent that long tackling this issue through their independent body WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) launching their first voluntary agreement back in 2005.  The national strategy for Australia will only just get a voluntary commitment program in place by 2019! To say we are lagging behind is an understatement.

One of the catalysts for a national strategy was the OzHarvest initiated Zero Food Waste Forum which bought together key stakeholders to discuss the issue. I know from engaging and listening to industry supporters, leading food businesses, and international experts in solving food waste problems, that Australia can realise concrete results very quickly. Many organisations are already engaged and ready to jump on board. We must work faster if we want to effect change within this timeframe, two years is too long to make this happen.

Whilst I totally support the need for collective action and the four priority areas of the strategy – policy support, business improvements, market development and behaviour change – serious funding is needed to get things going. Quite frankly, $1.37 million is not enough. At first I thought it was a typo and an extra zero had been missed. Apparently not. This low level of funding reflects the lack of priority and political will shown by the government to this huge economic and environmental problem.

Other countries are taking the lead in this area — one of the UK’s leading supermarkets is spending over £10 million ($17million Aus) in five years on fighting household food waste, Denmark just hosted the World Food Summit and all Danish supermarkets have a strategy to reduce food waste, the United States just published their second report on national food waste, have over 400 businesses signed up to a voluntary commitment, launched a national consumer campaign called ‘Save the Food’ and are issuing new guidance to standardise food labels, which are a major source of confusion and waste.

The wording of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are clear, ‘target sets ambition and ambition motivates action’. The time has come to stop talking about it and accelerate the action. The commitment to a national strategy is definitely the starting point, but further investment and a concrete plan of action is the only way to reach the goal.

Consumers have the real power to effect immediate change, but government investment is essential to lead the charge. With households generating 50 per cent of all food wasted – just imagine if wasting food was socially unacceptable – the mountain of waste created each year would be vastly reduced.  It’s not rocket science and starts with some simple changes at home based on buying what you need and eating up what you buy. We can all make an effort to avoid buying too much, seeking out imperfect produce, understanding food labels and just getting back to valuing our food instead of throwing it away.

I am fiercely committed to the fight against food waste and will continue to use my voice as part of the National Food Waste Steering Committee. Everyone is part of the solution. But last Monday, government did not do their part!


Ronni Kahn is the founder and CEO of OzHarvest, a national food rescue charity that collects unwanted food and distributes it to Australians in need.


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