Reducing waste in the food sector


On 6th December 2016 in Riga the Foundation for European Progressive Studies and Freedom and Solidarity Foundation hosted discussion “Reducing waste in the food sector.” Representatives from non-governmental organisations, experts, civil servants and politicians participated in discussion in order to jointly search for solutions at local and the EU level.

Charlotte Billingham, Executive Advisor at FEPS, opened the debate and marked the current situation in Europe – 1/3 of food is wasted in Europe, and is the third-biggest carbon emitter. 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU, but at the same time 1 in 9 people are short of food in order to live a full and healthy life.

In her presentation Charlotte Billingham explained that the biggest change in the current situation can be achieved by consumers changing their habits. Some EU countries at the moment already are dealing with the situation and there are good examples. France for instance passed the law that obliges supermarkets to distribute food, which has expired, but it is still valid for use, to charitable organisations. Similarly, companies and educational institutions are receiving information about how to waste less food. While Denmark has just opened it’s second branch of the supermarket selling expired food. Illustrating that the first one was very successful and the demand is there. The EU is taking this issue forward through the circular economy package and working towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Platforms such as “Refresh” and “Fusions” are being promoted at EU level whilst there are also many other initiatives appearing on their own in regions and cities across Europe.

Food waste

Photo gallery. Author: Džerijs Šterns

Ervins Labanovskis, head of the BSF and entrepreneur in the food sector Ltd. “Kainaiži” revealed a number of challenges in his intervention and also offered solutions. He explained that waste is occurring at all stages of the food-chain process – from food producers and distributors to dealers and consumers. One symbolic example he mentioned was vegetables and fruits, which are non-standard shape (Ugly fruits). Often such products are thrown away only because of their appearance, although the nutritional value is identical to the visually “correct” vegetables and fruits.

To solve this problem, the following non-standard (Ugly) products can be used, for example, for juice production. A good alternative would be to offer them to charity, in such situations the state could offer tax reductions to the producer. For example, the Danish and Icelandic governments now provide grants for projects that ensure the use of recycled and all grown food.

Also Ervins Labanovskis invited to pay attention to marked validity term of the products. He believes producers should put at least two shelf-life dates on packaging – one suggested for best quality and one suggested of not suitable for consumption after that date. In fact, the periods of validity are often more related to the visual appearance of the product and the taste quality, not its actual validity of use.

In order to address the food waste problem, changes in legislation are required. For example, it is necessary to provide clear regulations – how food can be given to NGO’s for charity or back to farmers for recycling. Cooperation and dialogue between all stakeholders involved in the food chain is important – the state, industry, NGO’s, consumers and charitable organisations should all be working together.

Ernests Zavadskis, Head of Food Supervision Department at the State Food and Veterinary Servic was sceptical about these previous suggestions. He pointed out that the use of food after the expiration of the expiration date set by the manufacturer, can endanger human health and harm the public. However, it was pointed out during the discussion that there are groups of food which validity is even several decades. But the manufacturers are setting unreasonably short expiry dates to ensure rapid movement of the products in the market. Similarly, the discussion participants noted that the risks can be minimised by adjusting legislation.

Agita Pusvilka, NGO “Homo Ecos” Communication Manager, explained how non-governmental organisations in Latvia are already working for several years on reducing food waste.

They were responsible for launching a public campaign which received a lot of attention back in 2013. Since 2016 they have been working closely with cooking students at 4 vocational schools (in Daugavpils, Jelgava, Valmiera and Riga). They carry out different studies on food waste in everyday situations: at school, at home, in the shop. They continue to carry out awareness campaigns informing the general public about their findings and they offer simple and practical solutions of how to avoid wasting food.

Jana Simanovska,, Representative of EcoDesign competence center focused on the work of EcoSchools, working with local governments and schools. They have successful projects of reducing food waste in municipalities. Children are learning about this both in the classroom school curriculum and also through practical activities for example in the canteen during lunchtimes.

Just as important is the choice of catering service provider in municipalities and local government policy on waste management and waste sorting. It is important to motivate consumers and change their habits. One of the elements of motivation can be a fee for waste removal this has proven to work well in some municipalities in other countries. Or encouraging more compost facilities in urban areas to reduce waste and use it for nutrients in green spaces.

There was marked interest form the participants and presence of several media at the debate. With this in mind FEPS and BSF will continue its work on this topic by carrying out research and offering space for further discussion.


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