Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste

“And so this is Christmas…” A time for food sharing and not wasting!

For many around the world, the Holidays, and particularly Christmas, represent a period of celebration that brings family and friends together. Customs, habits and behaviours transmitted from past times are still alive. In the past, preparing a variety of foods was a way to celebrate, if not the only time of the year when certain food items were consumed. Today, however, this time of year carries a most concerning impact in the form of considerable food waste. 

Over indulging, hosting Christmas gatherings, and celebrating with a variety of food and drinks all have one thing in common: the preparation and consumption of large quantities of food. Hosts of Christmas parties purchase and prepare large quantities of food as a gesture of good hospitality and to ensure their guests are satisfied. It is easy to become carried away and overzealous when food shopping for Christmas dinner gatherings, serving guests more food than they can eat, and making unplanned spontaneous decisions, which ultimately lead to additional food waste. In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, over 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and 74 million mince pies are wasted every year (Respect Food, 2019). This coupled with other typical Christmas dinner side dishes, such as vegetables and potatoes, add up to considerable quantities of food waste.  

Currently, 17 per cent of the total amount of food produced, equivalent to an estimated 931 million tonnes of food is wasted at the household and retail levels, of which 570 million tonnes comprise household food waste (UNEP, 2021). Food waste generation creates environmental concerns through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and generates an additional burden on landfill sites. Approximately 8 to 10 percent of GHGs are associated with food that is not consumed. Food waste also represents a waste of all resources - energy, labour, land and water - that have been invested throughout the food supply chain as well as the costs of the food, and the time and energy used in preparing and serving it to guests. The additional food waste generated during the Holidays season only adds to this current tragedy considering the increasing number of people who suffer from hunger and food security.   

At the retail level, additional food waste can stem from over-ordering, the poor stacking of grocery shelves and inadequate stock rotation at the peak of the festive season. 

Reducing food waste during festive periods and social gatherings can offer many benefits for people and the environment while saving money and contributing to improving the food security of the needy through donation, redistribution and food sharing.  If every household were to play its part in making small changes that reduce food waste over the Christmas season, the results of these collective efforts would contribute to generating beneficial impacts for people and for the planet.

By changing our habits, mindset and behaviour toward valuing food, we can all make a difference.  Each one of us can become a game changer in reducing food waste during this holiday season.

The Holiday Season: a food sharing opportunity

For many of the food insecure and vulnerable, receiving good quality food is one of the most important gifts they look forward to at this time of year. By donating to food banks and food pantries we can help vulnerable families realize that dream and enjoy a festive season with healthy foods of good quality as well as more typical festive foods that they may not otherwise be able to access.

Especially in these festive times, when food shopping donating a few items to a local food bank can make a considerable difference to vulnerable families. Moreover, donation to charitable institutions of unopened and surplus food items after the holidays, would go a long way to reducing food waste and helping those in need.  

Tips to reduce food waste  

The following tips can be used on a daily basis, and particularly during the Holiday Season to minimize food waste:

1) Prepare and follow shopping lists when food shopping and only buy the food you need. There is no need to overstock and buy unneeded food – and particularly perishable food items “just in case.” Furthermore, try to avoid being drawn in and tempted by festive supermarket deals on food bundles.

2) Plan in advance using meal plans, estimate portion sizes and also account for what foods any guests will eat more of and what foods the guests may not like or cannot eat.

3) Store foods appropriately – in the refrigerator, in the freezer, in cupboards or on counter tops - and ensure there is enough storage space for the food you are buying so it can be properly stored. It is also important to know what food you already have at home. Eat and prepare the items purchased earliest first and keep the newly purchased food, toward the back of the refrigerator or cupboard. Some foods can be frozen to extend their shelf life. 

4) Be aware of food labelling and understand when your food will no longer be fit for consumption. There is a difference between “use-by” and “best-before” date labels with “use-by” signalling when a food is no longer safe to eat. Foods, if preporly stored may still be consumed safely even after their “best-before” date.

5) Safely handle and store leftovers in airtight containers in the refrigrator or freezer to be reused at a later time. Leftover foods can be used creatively as ingredients in the preparation of other interesting meals. Alternatively, invite guests to take home leftovers. 

6) Donating surplus food. Apps can connect local businesses and people who have surplus food to others who would benefit from it. Food assistance charities, such as food banks, are always in need of extra food donations to benefit vulnerable individuals and families. Identify businesses in your local area that participate in food sharing and where charitable food donations can be made online. Apps can connect local businesses and people who have surplus food to others who would benefit from it. 

7) Food and food scraps that cannot be donated can alternatively be composted instead of being discarded. This recycles the nutrients back to the soil and helps limit the burden placed on landfill sites, especially around festivities when they can be busy. 

Let us all do our best to make this Holiday season different! We can reduce our food waste and through food donations, we can contribute to alleviating the food insecurity of vulnerable people.  

A Merry Christmas, for the people! for the planet!

 

Photo: © AdobeStock 233318507 

 

This article is written by Ryan Brown, Francesca Gianfelici and Rosa Rolle and based on the following sources:

Food Waste Index Report, UNEP 2021

15 quick tips for reducing food waste and becoming a Food hero

How Much Food Goes to Waste During Christmas, and How Can We Prevent It? Respect Food 2019

An explorative study on household food waste in Egypt

Stop food wastage during Ramadan

CHRISTMAS 2020: A ‘THANK YOU’ IS THE BEST GIFT YOU CAN GIVE

Tesco launches guide to counter 8,490 tonnes of Easter food waste

The impact of Thanksgiving Food Waste

Nearly 1 in 6 people say they may use food bank this Christmas