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Food waste management costs R75bn a year

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The total cost to manage food waste in South Africa ultimately amounts to R75-billion per year, the equivalent of 2,2% of South Africa’s 2013 GDP.

Meanwhile, although waste separation at source became a legal requirement in South Africa in 2009, it is still not being enforced six years later – a fact that is having a major impact on our environment. It also poses an ongoing financial cost.

In a report from the CSIR, Professor Suzan Oelofse, research group leader: waste for development, says that throughout the developed world, food is treated as a disposable commodity. Between a third and half of all food produced for human consumption globally is estimated to be wasted.  But attempts to quantify the actual amount of food wasted globally are constrained by limited data available, most notably from developing countries, the report states.

The preliminary estimate of the magnitude of food waste generation in South Africa is estimated to be 9,04-million tonnes per annum. On a per capita basis, overall food waste in South Africa in 2007 is estimated at 177kg per capita per annum and consumption waste at 7kg per capita per annum.

However, notes Oelofse,  these preliminary figures should be viewed with a modicum of caution and are subject to verification through ongoing research.

Another important point, according to the CSIR report, relates to waste disposal. Landfilling is generally considered the most practical and cheapest waste management method in South Africa. However, the report says,  the scarcity of available land in close proximity to areas of waste generation, as well as emissions of landfill gas – with high concentrations of methane –  have made landfilling a less attractive management solution. For example, the disposal of organic waste -including food waste – is estimated to contribute 4,3% to South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Introducing alternative end-of-life treatment technologies for food waste could, therefore, reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from food waste and should be considered.

According to a quote from one of the recent CSIR reports on food waste, if the estimates of the costs associated with disposal of food waste to landfill, including both financial costs and externalities (social and environmental costs), are taken into account, then these costs amount to R255 ($25) per tonne, giving rise to a total cost of food waste in South Africa of R75-billion ($7.5 billion) per annum, or R5 922 ($592) per tonne. This is equivalent to 2,2% of South Africa’s 2013 GDP.

Says Bronwyn Jones, from Bokashi Bran: “Food waste makes separating at source difficult. Once the food is removed from waste, other materials such as paper, plastic, tin and glass are far easier to separate and recycle. Bokashi Bran, developed in Japan where there simply isn’t any space for landfills, treats food waste by stopping the putrefaction process that causes the smells and environmental damage. By treating food waste with Bokashi at source, it not only allows the separation of other materials, but also reduces the number of waste collections required – therefore reducing costs and carbon footprint of logistics.”