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Halving food loss and waste: SDG 12.3

Janet Salem of UNEP Regional Office for Asia Pacific presents the critical issue of food loss and waste, and its relevance for Southeast Asia.
So now we’re going to talk about Sustainable Development Goal target 12.3, which is to halve food loss and waste. So there are three key things that can be done in this area. And I’ll give a couple of examples from the region. The first is awareness raising. The second one is measurement. And then the third is actual implementation and prevention of food waste. So the first example I’ll give is on awareness raising, because I think particularly for Southeast Asia, people are still thinking about poverty eradication when it comes to food. But actually, there’s a rising issue of food waste. So raising awareness is quite important.
So in December 2015, Bangkok held a Think, Eat, Save awareness raising event where celebrity chefs together with UNEP and OzHarvest, got together and prepared 2,200 meals only using ingredients that would normally go to landfill. Now, that sounds a little confronting. But a lot of things that go to landfill are actually perfectly good food, high quality, and have high nutritional value. So they use things like the trimmings of meat and fish. We got dented cans from a food importer, dented cans of coconut milk. We got food at the end of the day from markets, broken rice, bamboo, and a lot of things.
And so it made a really delicious menu of things like burgers, and curries, and desserts that could use these foods in a delicious and nutritious way. So that kind of awareness is really important to show people that food waste is not about food that’s unpalatable or inedible. But it’s also about perfectly good food going to waste. And that makes you wonder, well, how much is out there? So that’s what brings us to the second thing that we recommend where we have an example from the region and that’s food waste measurement. So now, there’s a global food loss and waste protocol that outlines how you should measure food waste in a standardised way.
So we have one example again from Bangkok where a consultancy is measuring food waste in some of the kitchens of Bangkok’s best hotels. And what they found is that the amount of food waste is much, much higher than you would expect, even in a professional kitchen environment. So for example, in one five-star hotel in Bangkok that was advanced enough to measure their food waste, their kitchen was producing over a tonne of food waste per week. And then they divided that out to figure out, well, per person’s meal, or per cover, how much is that? And they found that that’s 360 grammes per person’s meal.
And if you think about how much food you eat in one meal, it’s probably not much more than 360 grammes. So that’s actually a huge amount of waste and represents a huge economic loss to that hotel. So once you’ve raised awareness, and once you’ve measured your amount of food waste, then you can actually develop a plan to prevent the food waste. And there are different things that can be done by different stakeholders in the food system. So first of all, we always work with policy makers. So what can policymakers do? Well, they can mandate that food waste needs to be measured.
And what we found is that as soon as you start measuring food waste or people are aware that the food that they’re handling is measured, the waste automatically reduces just from the idea of consciousness about it. But lots of other things can be done. For example, charging companies for disposal of food to landfill. You can put taxes on food waste. You can mandate company reporting, annual reporting. You can also put in place a Good Samaritan law, which will protect companies that are donating their food waste or their excess food to charities and protect them from liability, as long as they follow good health and safety protocol. Businesses can also do a lot. They are the ones managing our food.
First of all, they should also measure food loss and waste, keep track of it. Then they can look at where the main amounts of food waste are and then there are many options. Either they can improve the handling of food to reduce damage to food along the supply chain. They can improve logistics. For example, refrigerated transport and minimising time lines between one step and another of the food system. They also play an important role in terms of the demand that they control down the supply chain.
So for example, placing an order to a farmer in a lot of contracts, there is a clause that allows them to cancel the contract if they don’t need the food anymore, which then leaves the farmer in a position of having excess food. Another example is in the retail sector, the labelling, the use by, or sell by the date labels on food. That actually creates a lot of confusion and a lot of perception amongst consumers or retailers that the food is no longer good. So another thing that can be done is the support to food banks. Food banks are basically logistics organisations that can match excess food with food demand.
So in a lot of cases, food waste is created because it’s no longer– the food has no economic value, for example, a restaurant that will only sell market-fresh fish. Now, we all know that the fish is still good the second and third day nutritionally. But if that’s their standard that they only sell day-of, then they can then donate the fish to a food bank, who’ll then connect it to a charity. But there are lots of examples in the retail sector, in even food manufacturing sector, of food that is, for one reason or another, no longer economically valuable. Maybe there’s a dent on a can. Or maybe they put the wrong label on the box or something like that.
Or it wasn’t made to specification. That is all part of the food waste story. And having a food bank to connect that source of food waste to charities, or even non-charities that can use the food, then reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfill or to improper disposal. And lastly, we have consumers. So we also play a big role in preventing food waste. And I think everyone can think of their own examples in their own home. But the main things of preventing food waste that everyone can do is to plan out the shopping a lot better, buy in smaller quantities, because more inventory leads to more waste over long term.
Then once we have the food, store it properly so that it doesn’t spoil prematurely. And then portion control, so only serve what you need or try to limit the amount that’s left on plates. And there are some cultural dimensions there about generosity and about portion sizes. So these are some things we do have to keep in mind. But this is the role of the consumers to determine how much food waste they want to contribute to. So just to sum up, on target 12.3, we have three key areas. The first one is awareness raising. The second one is measurement. And the third one is actual prevention of the food waste by different stakeholders in the food systems.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 is to halve food loss and waste. In this video, Janet Salem, of the UNEP Regional Office for Asia Pacific discusses the critical issue of food loss and waste, and its relevance for Southeast Asia.
Food system actors each have a responsibility to contribute to reducing food losses and waste. In this video, we will hear about local activities in Bangkok in which organizations, citizens, hotels and local chefs are raising awareness and taking action on this important issue.


Consider Janet’s statement about measuring waste, that simply by knowing how much food is wasted is enough to change the behaviours of individuals and organizations. In the comment box below, tell us what you think about the importance of measurement and data in understanding and addressing problems. Just how important is public awareness of a problem to change consumer behaviour?
Image Sources: Bangkok Eat-Think-Save event photos by UNEP ROAP and “Anderson Food Bank” / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by heacphotos
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Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

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