It is difficult to analyze food waste in Greece, not only because of the lack of extensive and in depth research, but also due to the absence of public debate about this important issue. A study of limited scope has been conducted by the University of Harokopio1. Public discussion about food waste was virtually nonexistent until a few years ago. The discussion that has occurred was not sponsored by the government like most industrialized countries, rather it was initiated by individuals mainly through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academic institutions.
With the help of NGOs, food waste has become the subject of public discussion in many industrialized countries with remarkable results. Great Britain is a good example2.
The food waste phenomenon
For many years, the food waste phenomenon was focused on less developed countries where malnutrition and hunger are more common. During the last two decades, however, food waste has been examined in developed countries as attitudes about waste in general have changed and more people in wealthier countries seek assistance in meeting their nutritional needs.
The United Nations recognized the importance of the problem of food waste and in early 2013 inaugurated the program Think.Eat.Save.Reduce your Footprint with the goal of drastically reducing food waste in wealthy nations4.
Food Waste in Greece | Boroume!
The different stages of food waste are as follows:
Each stage’s contribution to food waste varies and depends on the economic development of each country. In the less developed countries, waste occurs mainly in the production and processing stages where food is wasted during transport. For example, it is estimated that due to inadequate infrastructure in India, a country that has the most people living under the poverty threshold6, 21 tons of grains are lost each year during transport5 or about the annual production of grains in Australia. Conversely, in developed countries such as Greece, food waste occurs during the later stages, with the largest percentage (42%) occurring in the household use stage(see graph). For this reason, attempts at reducing waste in developed countries need to address changing the habits of consumers in regard to their use of food and in finding effective ways, i.e. the BOROUME method7, of using leftover food. In most developed countries, food waste is approached from the perspective of the effect it has on the environment8. As a result of the increase in population and disposable income, food waste in the EU will increase to 120 metric tons in 2020 from 89 in 2006, according to a European Commission study.
Contrary to other developed countries, Greece has approached food waste as a humanitarian issue during the crisis because so many of its citizens suffer from food insecurity9. This is a result from very high unemployment in Greece during the last few years and the reality that one third of the population lives near or under the poverty line10. The crisis has also caused a reduction in food waste because households are purchasing less due to lower disposable income11.
Reasons for wasting food in households and the food industry:
The size of food portions
Herein lies the dilemma between producing small portions that waste materials and producing larger portions that result in food waste.
Problems with labeling of products
Large quantities of food are wasted because consumers are confused about expiration or best use by dates that are found on product labels. Because of this confusion an opportunity to reduce food waste at the retail level in Greece has been lost12.
Special packaging could significantly increase a product’s life: i.e. the shelf life of vegetables containing large amounts of water could be increased five times longer if they are wrapped with special film.
As noted above, storage problems occur mainly in developing countries but also occur in developed countries: it is estimated that 2 million tons of food are not stored properly in Great Britain each year13.
As more people in the developed countries know about the phenomenon of food waste, few have changed their habits or are actively trying to reduce their personal waste. In Greece, there is a distinct gap in the information provided to citizens when compared to other European countries.
Large quantities of food are wasted due to the dietary preferences that consumers exhibit: i.e. the waste of the potato or apple peel, the crust from bread etc. This type of food waste is the most difficult to change14.
Manner of purchasing food
The manner of purchasing food for each household is deemed an important factor in food waste, especially in a country like Greece whose population just recently started showing signs of mature consumer behavior due to the crisis15.
During the last few decades there have been changes in the social structure of developed countries as evidenced by the increase in one person households. This factor plays a role in food waste because one person households have a greater tendency to waste food when compared to larger sized households. This can also be seen in Greek society.
Reasons for waste in the manufacture and wholesale distribution of food center around the problems of storage and transportation.
Illustrative statistics about global food waste:
1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year with a value of $750 billion which equals the GNP of Turkey the 18th richest country in the world16
Obesity has become a global problem with 1.7 billion people affected17 while at the same time 870 million people are malnourished18
At a time when global food production is sufficient to feed everyone, 9 million children die each year from hunger19
89 million tons of food from the EU end up in the trash bin each year20 not including the food that ends up being discarded from the production process
Annually, households in the EU throw away approximately 100 billion euros of food which equals the annual revenues of Nestle, the largest food company in the world21
In the US, 40 million tons of food is wasted each year, about the same amount it would take to feed every malnourished person in the world22
New technology allows leftover bread to be used as fuel which can be burned the same way as wood, providing the same energy output. It has been estimated that if all German bakeries used this method, the energy produced would equal the output of a nuclear reactor.
Since its founding in 2011, BOROUME’s concept to reduce food waste represents a Greek innovation which has generated great interest in many countries. BOROUME’s concept is to be a link between those that wish to donate leftover food and those that distribute food to the needy. This is done without BOROUME receiving, storing or distributing the food. BOROUME’s concept is a response to food waste and at the same time meeting the nutritional needs of many of our fellow citizens in Greece with the lowest possible cost while using new technologies and methods of linking donors with the organizations that serve the needy. So far, BOROUME has provided over 400,000 meals to organizations and provides over 1,000 meals a day on average.
The “Map of Need” available on BOROUME’s website. www.boroume.gr, lists hundreds of locations throughout Greece where donated food is accepted so that each person has the ability to find an organization to donate leftover food near his or her neighborhood. On a weekly basis many donations of leftover food are posted into BOROUME’s system and are worked on by various volunteers with the result that all donations are placed with organizations that serve the needy within a few hours.
At the same time organizations throughout Greece that serve the needy are documented in as far as their needs and contact information so that anyone who wishes to help them can do so immediately. Providing many different ways to donate food, posting articles and information regarding food waste, presenting at various conferences, constantly appearing on local and international media and working with governmental and non-governmental bodies are some of the ways BOROUME has contributed to increased awareness about food waste in Greece. Also, our close working relationships with domestic food companies have changed how they perceive donation of leftover food.
Food waste is a large issue globally and in Greece. After the first step in recognizing the issue, the second step is how we respond to it. Our response can include better information to the public, a change in our attitude and an increase in the involvement of various governmental and non-governmental organizations, like BOROUME. Finally, we can carry the message that the current situation can be improved in the near future to the benefit of our fellow man and the environment.
2 Some examples can be found: Tafel in Germany (http://tafel.de/), City Harvest in the US (http://www.cityharvest.org/), Fairshare in Great Britain (http://www.fareshare.org.uk/), Resto du Coeur in France (http://www.restosducoeur.org/)
8 It has been estimated that one ton of organic waste releases one ton of methane which is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming. http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/09/new-york-foodies-turn-nose-up-to-composting/
9 The sharp decline in per capita income in recent years in Greece had similar impact on food insecurity of the Greek people. http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/Country/Details#Greece
10 Based on statements by the Governor of the Bank of Greece: http://www.alphatv.gr/Newsroom/Alpha-News/Economy/-%CE%94%CE%B5%CE%BD-%CF%85%CF%80%CE%B1%CF%81%CF%87%CE%BF%CF%85%CE%BD-%CF%80%CE%B5%CF%81%CE%B9%CE%B8%CF%89%CF%81%CE%B9%CE%B1-%CE%B5%CF%86%CE%B7%CF%83%CF%85%CF%87%CE%B1%CF%83%CE%BC%CE%BF%CF%85–%CF%84%CE%BF%CE%BD%CE%B9%CE%B6%CE%B5%CE%B9-%CE%BF-%CE%93–.aspx
12 Relevant article on products’ best use by dates: http://www.boroume.gr/trofima_imerominia_lixis/
14 http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/pdf/bio_foodwaste_report.pdf page 35