South Africa generates over 9 million tonnes of food waste annually

Submitted by: Margaret McKenzie, Monday, September 3, 2012

<p>Approximately 4% of food waste in South Africa is generated by consumers (Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_570450_left-dirty-dishes-in-restaurant.html'>photoman / 123RF Stock Photo</a>).</p>

Approximately 4% of food waste in South Africa is generated by consumers (Image credit: photoman / 123RF Stock Photo).

Approximately 9.04 million tonnes of food waste is generated every year in South Africa says Dr Suzan Oelofse a principal researcher with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).   Oelofse estimates that only 4% of food waste is generated by consumers with an average of 7kgs generated per capita per annum.  An approximate breakdown of sources of food waste in South Africa are shown in the graph below.  

Concerns about food waste

Food waste is a concern because of high levels of food insecurity in South Africa.   Mohamed Kajee the managing director of  Foodbank South Africa estimates that between 12 and 14 million people in South Africa are currently food insecure.  “This is an alarming number in a wealthy country like South Africa” says Kajee.  “It seems like [food insecurity] is getting worse.  We are seeing some startling statistics from rural areas, for instance in the North West Province about 68% of rural people are food insecure” adds Kajee.

On the environmental front there are particular concerns about food waste that is landfilled.  The main problem with sending organic waste to landfill “is that it is the component of waste that decomposes” says Oelofse.   The decomposition process generates methane and leachate in landfills.   Leachate has the potential to contaminate ground water and methane is a greenhouse gas.  Since methane is a 21 times more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide its contribution to global warming is substantial.   While most of the food waste created during agricultural production is probably composted, the majority of other food waste goes to landfill says Oelofse.

Reducing Food Waste

Since the risk of losses is much higher for foods that need to be transported over large distances consumers can help reduce food waste by buying food that is local and seasonal says Oelofse.  Oelofse also points out that many people don’t understand how to store food and don’t have proper storage for the food they buy.   It is also important to cook the right amount of food instead of cooking more than is required says Oelofse.

Foodbank SA helps to reduce food waste by providing a platform through which food nearing expiry can be donated to those in need.   Kajee estimates that about 6000 tonnes of food is saved every year by Foodbank SA.    This translates into 18 to 20 million meals per year.  Food is donated to Foodbank SA from a variety of sources including food producers, manufacturers, retailers, government agencies and individuals.  Foodbank SA sorts donated food and then dispatches the food to 1,700 agencies around the country.  Agencies are community based organisations such as creches, old age homes, soup kitchens and homes for abused women and children.   “We try to target the poorest of the poor” says Kajee.  To ensure that agencies meet the requirements of Foodbank SA they are assessed on a regular basis. 

Foodbank SA is part of the Global Foodbank Network (GFN) and has adopted the safety standards recommended by that network.   Foodbank SA staff are all trained in food safety to ensure adherence to these standards.  In addition Foodbank SA is also audited by some of its larger donors on a regular basis to ensure that warehouses are sanitary and use proper pest control methods.

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Margaret McKenzie