Food waste - the secret source of greenhouse gas emissions

Wasted fruits and vegetables disposed of in landfill create harmful greenhouse gas emissions like methane. Image: Adobe Stock.

The flight attendant opens the door of the airplane. A strange smell wafts through the seats. Looking out of the window, there are mountains covered in food scraps. You have arrived at your destination – the country which is the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

However, this is not a country. It is the amount of food we throw away. If food loss and waste were a country, it would produce more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country apart from China and the US. If food is wasted and disposed of in landfills, it starts to rot and creates methane. “A greenhouse gas which is much more harmful and potent than carbon dioxide”, explains waste educator and founder of the business Donutwaste, Sharka Hornakova.

Overview of different parts of the supply chain where food waste can occur. Image: Sarah Anthony

The National Food Waste Strategy

Our agriculture produces food that is profitable enough to feed more than twice the Australian population. 

Yet over seven million tons of food end up in the bin every year. In landfills across the country, wasted food creates not only greenhouse gases but also bad odours, attracts vermin and potentially causes diseases.

The Australian government identifies food waste as a massive problem and seeks to tackle this issue through initiatives like the National Food Waste Strategy

The program was launched in 2017 and aims to halve the country’s food waste by 2030. It is a collaboration between government, industry and communities to reduce food loss and waste in all phases of the supply chain.

Overview of food waste in Australia in 2020-2021. Image: Sarah Anthony

The National Food Waste Strategy is based on the model of a circular economy – food is seen as a valuable resource which is brought into circulation and used, reused and recycled as long as possible. Only if there is no other option available, it is disposed of in landfill. There are in total four different priority areas where change can happen. One of them is business improvements. New technologies and improvements should be implemented to avoid and reduce food waste.

The Perth based start-up Whole Green Foods is just one example for one of those new technologies. Below, co-founder Nick Stamatiou explains how their Whole Ingredient Nutrient Extraction (WINX) technology saves food waste in three different dimensions.

Food Tech Entrepreneur Nick Stamatiou:

Co-founders Nick Stamatiou and Cedric Cross infront of their WINX (Whole Ingredient Nutrient Extraction) technology. Image: Whole Green Foods Pty Ltd.

The WINX technology can process parts of ingredients which would otherwise be wasted like broccoli leaves. Image: Whole Green Foods Pty Ltd

Recycling of organic waste

Organic waste is waste that was originally once alive, like leftover food, coffee grounds, fallen leaves and branches as well as cardboard. Between 2020 and 2021 a total of 75 million tons waste was generated in Australia. In second place is organic waste with 14 million tons. 

Just about half of this is recycled, the rest goes to landfill.

Composting is not only one of the easiest methods to recycle organic waste. It is also an approach to keep the resources in the circular economy to improve agricultural soil and save greenhouse gas emissions.

 The Australian Organics Recycling Association claims that if 80% of organic waste is removed from landfill, there will be an additional 2600 jobs created in Australia.

Composting is a great alternative to landfill. Image: Adobe Stock. 

In January 2021, Sharka Hornakova founded her business Donutwaste. She drives around Perth and collects coffee grounds, beer can clips and hessian bags – products that would otherwise end up in landfills. Coffee grounds are a perfect example for a circular economy. Instead of throwing it in the bin, it can be used to make soap or body scrubs and composted to enrich the soil.

Recycling organic waste and maintaining a circular economy is one approach to minimise waste and save greenhouse gas emissions. It is a method which is fairly easy for households to implement. 

Many still hold prejudices that composting is very time-consuming, often smells bad and attracts vermin. It might be a little bit overwhelming in the beginning but once you have found the right system and a good balance, it is quite simple. The first step should always be trying to use up all the food bought, but if that is not possible, composting is a great way to keep the resources in the cycle and avoid producing greenhouse gas emissions.

Leave a Reply