Nineteen families in Nelson and Tasman were happy last week to receive a $50 grocery voucher as a reward for completing a kitchen diary, in which they recorded every single item of food and drink that they threw away for one whole week - a big task!
Globally, the spotlight is on food waste, with images of starving children haunting our consciences daily, contrasting sharply with reports of developed countries wasting 30-40 per cent of the food produced-220 million tonnes-more than enough to feed the world.
FAO reports per capita waste by consumers is 95-15 kg per year in Europe and North America, compared to 6-11 kg in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/South-East Asia.
In New Zealand, very little information on food waste exists, which has prompted Nelson and Tasman councils to fund a study to find out which foods people are throwing out, how much, and the reasons why.
Once the results are finalised, Nelson Environment Centre (NEC), who are conducting the study, will develop a programme to help households reduce food waste and, at the same time, food bills.
The New Zealand campaign will be based upon the internationally acclaimed UK campaign: Love Food Hate Waste, which has reduced food waste in London by an impressive 21 per cent.
Teaming up with WasteMINZ, NZ's largest representative body of the waste and resource recovery sector, NEC is collecting information on food waste in our region.
Wellington and Auckland councils have recently completed a survey of the food in household rubbish bags to find out exactly what and how much food is wasted in NZ.
Here in Nelson and Tasman,we are focusing more on the reasons why food ends up in the rubbish bag, hence the need for detailed diaries asking these questions.
We targeted households with young children, as international research shows that this group wastes more food than any other sector.
In Wellington, workers sifted through rubbish bags from 300 homes and found that common items were feijoas, mandarin peelings, half-eaten chicken thighs and bread.
They reported that much of the binned food was perfectly good, but may have passed its "best by" date. Wellington council will use these findings to calculate how much money an average Wellington household wasted by binning food.
In a similar British study from 2007, the average household threw away 4kg of edible food each week, wasting nearly $3000 a year.
Here in Nelson and Tasman, the diaries reveal a similar picture, with bread, chicken, school lunchbox leftovers (especially sandwiches) and breakfast cereals following behind fruit and veggies as the main items wasted.
The main reasons edible food is wasted seem to be that food is left to go off before it can be eaten and portion sizes may be too big, especially for young children.
School lunchboxes produce a lot of waste; interestingly, one mum noticed that, after the school implemented a zero-waste lunch policy, the children are now supervised until they have eaten their lunch before being allowed to play, with the result that the lunchbox waste is halved.
"The really great news that the diaries show is that nearly every family we surveyed cooks loads of fresh fruit and veggies.
Also, 44 per cent of food waste in our region is thrown in the compost and 23 per cent is fed to animals, so only 24 per cent is going to landfill", says Sarah Langi, NEC's waste education facilitator.
"This may be painting too bright a picture, as the families all volunteered to take part in the survey, but also may reflect the variety of fresh food available in our region, and all the free compost workshops the councils have funded in recent years".
A campaign to reduce food waste will now be designed, likely to include tips about cooking leftovers and storing food correctly.
Simple steps such as checking what's in your fridge and cupboard and writing a shopping list are effective ways to avoid buying unnecessary groceries and save money.
- Sarah Langi is in charge of Waste Education Services for the Nelson Environment Centre, which contributes 50 Shades of Green fortnightly.
- The Nelson Mail