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The Economics of Food Waste - A Closer Look into Successful Waste Reduction Policies

I’m sure we’ve all heard about the plethora of effects food waste has on our lives. In fact, you probably don’t need to look further than your kitchen or school cafeteria to see perfectly edible food being dumped.

Food waste, the act that causes more than a third of the world’s food supply to rot and is a major contributor to climate change, seems like an issue that should be easy enough to address. Simply get people to stop throwing it away! You’d be saving time, money AND effort! Yet here we are, living in a city - Hong Kong - that wastes roughly 9 000 tonnes of municipal solid waste every day, equalling the weight of about 250 double-decker buses.

So why is this problem so hard to solve? The answer lies within the intricate depths of corporate marketing strategies - utilising consumer tendencies to knowingly instil a certain ideology into the buyer’s mind. But before we get into the technicalities, let’s take a look at existing economies that are already thriving with the reduction of food waste.

There’s no doubt that France claims first place in the race to lessen food waste, with industrial economies like India and China lagging far behind. And the way France has dealt with this integral issue is fairly straightforward, in fact. The answer is simple - effective legislation.

Let’s break this down, shall we?

  1. Changing consumer behaviours

Let’s face it - you can’t really expect approximately 5 billion people to just start composting when you tell them to. The French realised this long before everyone else, and so the French capital authority is distributing waste sorting kits containing a seven-litre recycling box and a guide. The initiative will enable 120,000 Paris residents to put their food waste into a bio waste recycling bin. The waste will then be collected and transformed into fertilisers or upgraded in mechanisation plants to convert it into heat and electricity or biofuel for buses.

See? Don’t bother asking people to recycle, ensure that they have no other choice BUT to recycle.

  1. Waste Management Enforcement

Of course, as much we want to deny it, much (70%!) of the waste we generate comes from production sites and factories, trickling down from large money-making corporations. Here the french thought - Why not slap a big fat tax on them?

The French ministry of energy and sustainable development have since required businesses to recycle their organic waste if they produce more than 120 tons of it per year. However, this amount has been lowered gradually to include not just supermarkets and agrifood firms, but also companies in the hospitality and food service sector. Failure to comply with the legislation could result in fines of up to €75,0000 (approx. $700000 HKD).

...Go big or go home, you know?

  1. Get the private sector on board

We’ve seen tons of waste reduction policies implemented around the world - but the problem with all of them is that they simply don’t target the people who actually create the waste.

Feel free to blatantly point your finger at Multinational Corporations here (or MNC’s for short), because frankly, more of us need to do so.

To make it simpler, here’s a quick infographic demonstrating how MNC’s like Nestle and Unilever “aim” to reduce food waste, but never get around to actually doing it.

Clearly, MNC’s need to be held accountable, and we need to ensure they don’t take advantage of consumer choices time and time again. - but how? These large enterprises seem practically untouchable at this point. But if there’s anything I’ve learnt in the past year, (sounds cliché i know) it’s that even the smallest changes make a lasting impact - we’ve compiled a quick list of things YOU can do to avoid fuelling this crisis unknowingly.

  1. Green stickers can be misleading - READ them.

With the green sticker symbolising a global movement towards sustainability and eco-friendly products, several MNC’s (including Nestle) change their packaging in order to incorporate them in order to trick consumers into thinking their products are ‘green’ when in reality, they’re anything but. Avoid falling for marketing scams by checking that the green sticker is certified by an org such as the EFA (Environmental Facility Abroad) (they usually have small logos on them) is a great way to avoid falling for marketing scams such as this one.

  1. Try adopting a meat-free lifestyle!

Meat is a great way for companies to make big bucks without having to worry about lawsuits and complaints because animal products are usually backed by policies that favour MNC’s with regards to legal issues. Governments globally aren’t allowed to inspect local meat unless they have a warrant - making the issue ten times worse. Start with one meat-free day per week and encourage your friends to do the same - less meat-eating consumers means less production, resulting in more of the waste we produce being organic (ie. from fruits and vegetables).

Finally, if there’s anything we want you to take away from this article, it’s to support small, localised businesses targeting vegetarian and vegan consumers. With COVID-19, many of them hardly have the funds to continue, especially because they put true effort and go to great lengths to ensure that their food comes out with as little waste as possible. We know it’s hard, but the next time you want to go out for an afternoon snack, opt for local noodles instead of chicken nuggets from Mcdonalds.

Why don’t we finish off with a cheesy quote? Here ya go :)

“Start small, Dream big, but most of all, Start.” --- Simon Sinek

Written by Aiswarya Rambhatla

Edited by Kadence Wong

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