More than 9 million tonnes of food is wasted in our country every year, whilst 12 million South Africans are food insecure, says the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Food wastage happens all the way along the value chain – from production and transport to storage and retail. Food is one of the 3 core building blocks of sustainability, hence this wastage needs urgent attention.
Us as consumers play an important role here, as everyone wastes food. And the more we waste, the more food must be produced to feed our growing population. That requires more water and energy, and turns more of our natural environment into farmland. And when you consider that food production uses up 70% of the world’s water and 6% of its energy resources, it’s obvious we should be doing all we can to slow down the need for more and more food.
50% of food produced goes down the drain!
Addressing food management is becoming increasingly important as figures from the CSIR shows that some R61.5 million – or 2.1% of the country’s GDP – is lost per year, which in part is also due to the wasteful consumption of consumers. The same report reflects that an astounding 50% of food produced in South Africa literally goes down the drain every year.
Many households can easily identify with food waste – by simply looking into your garbage bags, if you are still not composting your organic waste. Remember that wastage doesn’t start here. Food waste can be sourced as far back as the food production and distribution stages.
“The cost of food waste goes far beyond simply household expenses. In the bigger scheme of things, it is also a key contributor to greenhouse gases in the form of methane gas emitted from rotting food. This gas is 7 times as destructive as CO2, so a grave danger to our future. Hence it is crucial that we all do something now,” says Kerri Savin, Sustainability Stakeholder Manager.
Food is key in the value chain
Food, together with water and energy, make up the nexus components for ensuring the world’s sustainable future. The value chain is illustrated by each of the component’s uses. Water, for instance, is vital for creating food and generating energy, while energy is important for treating water and transporting food. Food provides energy in various forms, which includes calories for humans and animals or compost and fertilisers for plants.
Last month Nedbank launched a food security programme to activate more than 30 000 staff members to change their behaviour, so they too can play a role in food security in the country. “Food waste is closely linked to food security. If we continue to follow unsustainable methods of producing food, there is the risk of not being able to secure adequate food supplies,” says Savin. The country also spends billions to dispose of food waste.
Nedbank is responding to this threat by partnering with stakeholders, such as the WWF, to help ensure that the food process chain becomes more sustainable. The WWF Sustainable Agriculture Programme combines WWF’s sustainable agriculture work and Nedbank’s emphasis on the food-water-energy nexus. Together, this has placed greater emphasis on sustainable farming methods, where landowners manage their farms through the use of appropriate irrigation, water use monitoring and various methods to protect water resources within farmlands.
“This is one way that we are helping to manage food waste throughout the agribusiness value chain, to reduce food wastage and preserve natural resources,” says Savin.
Staff food savings campaign and ball
Nedbank is also taking its message internally with a ‘food savings campaign’ to its staff members. “Every bit of activism counts from ordering smaller portions at restaurants to ensuring that you are only buying, cooking and refrigerating food that you need.”
The bank is also introducing a ‘food savings ball’ that will enable individuals to store food safely over the holiday season.
The ripening of fruit and vegetables is a chemical process that is caused by ethylene gas, a natural plant hormone. It initiates and accelerates the ripening of fruit and vegetables, and then causes them to deteriorate. By lowering the level of ethylene gas surrounding fruits and vegetables, their shelf life can be greatly increased, slowing the maturation of fruit, protecting vegetables, and greatly reducing spoilage.
Device to absorb ethylene gas
When produce is transported it has been standard practice for over 20 years to use devices that absorb the ethylene gas that fruits and vegetables emit as they ripen. This stops the ripening process so that produce can be shipped to market looking freshly picked, and not wilted or fuzzy.
Now we can also use this in our own fridges and on the counter, where some fresh produce is better kept in brown paper bags. The food savings ball is a simple, organic, non-toxic and recyclable device for the home that extends the storage life of produce up to three times longer by absorbing ethylene gas in an organic carrier medium of volcanic ash.
The carrier medium for sodium permanganate can vary, however, for the home market, a natural zeolite is used. Zeolite is a pure form of ancient volcanic ash that has a very high crystalline surface area, providing an ideal substrate for the ethylene gas oxidation to occur.
Spent zeolite becomes soil supplement
The reaction between the ethylene gas and sodium permanganate oxidizes the ethylene gas away and decreases the available sodium permanganate too. The amount of sodium permanganate available will typically last at least 3 months in most home refrigerators and dry storage areas.
After 3 months the packet inside of zeolite should be replaced with a fresh refill packet. Spent zeolite should be recycled by sprinkling it onto plants and flowers in the household. Zeolite is a natural soil and the MnO2 provides trace minerals to the soil, making it a very good fertilizer.
It is also important to know how to ideally store your fruits and vegetables:
Most fruit (including avocados and tomatoes) should be stored at room temperature until ripe. Exceptions to this are berries, grapes, fresh figs, melons, pineapple, coconut and tangerines. Apples can be refrigerated or stored in a cool dark place. To speed ripening, place fruit in a loosely closed paper bag. Leave at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. The paper bag holds in ethylene, a gas produced naturally by the fruit, which helps speed up the ripening process. Don’t use a plastic container as it traps moisture and air which causes spoilage. Once ripe, fruit can also be refrigerated.
In an independent study it was found that permanganate ethylene mitigation products are also overachievers, as they also kill air-borne bacteria, viruses, sour rot, blue mold and brown rot fungi.
Be the beginning of change
Consumers we can be the beginning of the change. Simply by becoming more aware as individual food consumers, we can lessen food waste and also add collective pressure on business, industry and government to do more about food waste.
Other tips for being a food sensitive consumer include:
- making sure that the food retailers we support contribute towards food security initiatives – ask and encourage them
- asking for smaller portion sizes when ordering meals at restaurants
- only buying, cooking and refrigerating the food your family really needs
- avoiding food spoilage by over-catering, over-shopping – dropping the über culture in all respects, but especially with our precious food.
This kind of consumption ‘best practice’ is good for you, for humanity and the environment.
- Read more about effective food storage here.