My interest into on-farm food wastage began a few months ago when I saw an ad for the War on Waste on ABC. I thought it would be about the food that goes to waste in Australian households every year. But I was wrong, I learnt something new this day. I discovered that food wastage began before it was taken home by customers before it is even taken to the supermarket. I learnt that food wastage occurs on farms. Australia’s waste is growing at twice the rate of the population and The Queensland Farmer’s Federation estimates that 20-40% of produce grown on farms is tossed aside before it even leaves the farm!
This made me angry but interested about why produce on farms goes to waste.
So with this 20-40% of produce wasted and tossed aside, I wondered what happened to this food. Maybe it would go to people who are in need of food, or would be sold cheaper. No. It just sits there.
This produce is put into piles making up landfill. Approximately 2.1 million Mg of food waste is put into landfills every year in Australia. Stats from the ABC’s War on Waste shows that when food becomes landfill it rots which lets off methane, a greenhouse gas. Methane is 25 times more intoxicating than carbon dioxide, which is what cars produce. Approximately 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane are released a year due to organic food going to waste in landfill, just adding to that little thing called climate change. Sorry world, we’ve really stuffed this thing up.
Climate change and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are not only caused by landfill but other human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, the clearing of land for agriculture and industries and emissions from cars and other transportation devices. Although landfill is not the only reason for climate change occurring, it has definitely not helped the issue.
Not only is food wastage directly affecting climate change, but it’s also an extreme waste of natural resources such as soil and water and not to mention the hard laborious work of our farmers and their money.
Australia produces enough food each year to feed up to 60 million people, which is more than twice our population, yet not all of it gets to our people. So why is this 20-40% of on-farm produce wasted? Major supermarket retailers impose cosmetic control and specifications on produce. The specificities of bananas from Woolworths must be a specific curvature, length and thickness otherwise they are rejected. Pretty touch standards 😉 To read more Woolworths has their produce specifications listed here.
But the truth is, the expectations of consumers, that’s us, is that fruit should be cosmetically beautiful for it to be worthy of being bought. Yes, that’s right now we even judge food on how it looks. People don’t want to buy fruit or vegetables that have blemishes, are oddly shaped or not the ‘exact’ right colour. Kate Browne, from consumer organisation Choice, says consumers want ‘perfect produce’. Our consumer perceptions of what is a quality fruit or vegetable are how visually appealing they are. People just don’t want to go to the supermarket and buy ‘ugly’ fruit.
To combat this there are great companies and farmers taking initiative in concurring this issue of on-farm produce waste by taking ‘ugly’ fruit and veg products and reimagining them. Scenic Rim producers Kalfresh process ‘waste’ carrots and make them into pre-cut, bagged and shredded alternatives for dips. Another example of repurposing these ‘waste’ products are banana farmers Rob and Krista Watkins who turn their ‘waste’ bananas into gluten-free banana flour products. These examples take ‘ugly’ fruit problems and turn them into successful products while reducing waste and landfill. Innovative works like these are just some of the great examples of how companies are embracing ‘ugly’ fruit and veggies to avoid on-farm wastage.
Other ways that we can reduce the waste of fruit and veggies is changing the way we as consumers look at fruit and veggies. There are ‘ugly fruit and veggie’ campaigns that aim to change consumer behaviour to create an alternate market for this produce and make sure nothing goes to waste and maybe one day, become the norm. Harris Farm Markets, an Australian grocery chain, began their campaign ‘Imperfect Picks’ in 2014. This campaign relaxed the aesthetic standards on fruit and vegetables so that food waste was reduced. Fruits and veggies with blemishes and imperfections were sold which would usually be rejected from other supermarkets. Spade and Barrow, a social wholesale food business, also took a similar approach by buying produce with imperfections from farmers than selling it at 40% lower for cafes, restaurants and catering companies. With a survey from Choice showing that 77% of people worry about the cost of groceries, having innovative campaigns like these selling ‘ugly’ fruit and veggies at lower prices should ease pressure from consumers and hopefully result in a reduction in waste on farms.
Campaigns like these should hopefully pick up and be a part of any and every supermarket and farmers market and perhaps become the norm when it comes to buying fruit and veggies. Reducing the waste that occurs on farms will not only help the environment but reward farmers who work hard every day to grow the food we eat.
Anybody who cares about our environment or just the farmers that take the time to grow our fruit and veggies should support these companies with their ugly fruit endeavours.
We as consumers can help to make this change. We change our buying behaviour to show that we don’t want beautiful fruit exclusively. We’ll buy those with a few blemishes and weird shapes. Come on people, we can accept some funny looking fruit and veggies. We’re not that shallow are we?!