Nearly a quarter of all food purchased in a year in Malta goes to waste, it was revealed. Yet at the same time, we hear of stories about people who sometimes struggle to put food on the table. How can this be?
UM resident academic at the Department of Insurance within the Faculty of Economics, Management & Accountancy, Dr Jonathan Spiteri, who extensively researches notions in behavioural economics, believes that the whole world needs to undergo a shift in the way food waste is utilised.
He teaches about the concept of circular economies, which, rather than the more socially recognised linear approach to taking resources, making stuff out of them and then simply disposing of the surplus or the waste, relies more on designing waste out of economic systems by finding alternative uses for it.
On the back of his research on the topic and involvement in the R2Pi Horizon 2020 project, which seeks to facilitate the transition towards circularity among businesses, and in which the University of Malta played a key role, he was recently contacted by the Reggie Miller Foundation, the General Workers’ Union educational arm, to assist with a nation-wide campaign on food wastage.
His role in the StopWaste campaign, was to provide initial guidance and information regarding the circular economy, both at the local and EU level, covering a variety of sectors and priority areas, with food being one of them.
He will also be assisting in launching the campaign at European level during the European Trade Union Institute in Florence at the end of February.
The Newspoint team spoke with Dr Spiteri to get an expert’s opinion on the current food wastage situation in Malta.
Q. What exactly constitutes food waste?
A. Essentially, this encompasses any food (as defined in Article 2 of Regulation EC No. 178/2002 of the European Parliament and Council) from primary production, processing or manufacturing, retail and distribution, restaurants and ancillary services, and households that has been removed from the food supply chain to be recovered or disposed. So this also includes food that has been separated for composting purposes.
Q. Why, in your opinion, is there so much food wastage in Malta?
A. Most of it occurs due to lack of planning or thinking, and that’s where this campaign comes in. Its aim is to raise awareness among employees, customers and stakeholders through posters and social media posts aimed at targeting households and individuals. The project will also soon be launched at European level.
Q. What food wastage targets are being set in Malta, and are we keeping up with them?
A. This is extremely difficult to gauge because there is no long-run, consistent and reliable data on food waste generated in Malta, which in part stems from the EU’s long-gestating methodology for measuring food waste.
One estimate for Malta’s household food waste is of around 129.6 kg per person every year (FUSIONS Project, 2018), which is somewhat on the high side, certainly relative to other countries like the UK (73.1) and Germany (62.7). So while it’s difficult to assess our progress or otherwise, it’s probably safe to say that we’ve got a long way to go.
Q. Are consumers or grocery stores more responsible for food wastage?
A. Unfortunately, there is a lack of available data, so I cannot factually answer that.
However, the limited evidence suggests that, at least at European level, households account for over 50% of total food waste, meaning that such campaigns are imperatively important, and should be aimed squarely at households.
Based on the work done by the EU-funded FUSIONS project, since Maltese households generate around 129.6 kg of waste per person per year, then the average cost per person of food waste is of approximately €457 per person per year. Just for context, the average in the EU is of around 92 kg per person per year, or €324 per person per year as an annual cost. Therefore, it is clear that it is in our collective interest to reduce food waste.
Q. Who is taking part in the StopWaste campaign?
A. The campaign is managed by the General Workers Union, and led by its educational arm, the Reggie Miller Foundation.
However, companies and entities can easily get involved, firstly by contacting the Reggie Miller Foundation for any posters and marketing collateral, since these help with raising awareness among employees, customers and stakeholders.