Food Waste in Australia

Food Waste in Australia

Food Waste in Australia

Across the world, food waste results in significant social, economic and environmental consequences. An alarming one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. Large amounts of food waste is sent to landfill, accounting for 8% of all global greenhouse emissions.1 The total cost for food waste is estimated at US$2.6 Trillian annually.2

Australia as a nation throws out over $8 billion of edible food each year, or 4 million tonnes! This waste, enough to fill 450,000 garbage trucks, produces greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane.3 An estimated 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was released as a result of organic waste in 2011.4 Australians discard up to 20% of the food they purchase, costing approximately $1000 annually per household.3 We produce enough food for 60 million people each year, yet over 600,000 people seek assistance from food relief charities. 5

When food is thrown out, not only is the food itself wasted, but also the resources required for the food to get from the paddock to the plate. This includes the water, land, energy, fuel and natural resources for the food to be grown, packaged, transported and marketed. For example, food waste accounts for 24% of the world’s fresh water, it is estimated that 1,000 litres of water is required to produce 1L of milk and throwing out a kilogram of potatoes means that 500L of water is wasted.1, 6

Why the waste? Too much food is cooked, leftovers are not used, or too much food is bought. Significant amounts of fresh food are rejected before they even reach the stores, due to supermarket standards for the colour, shape and size of produce. On a large scale food waste results from overproduction, spoilage, contamination and food exceeding expiry dates.

Food waste is estimated to make up over one third of household waste.7,8 strategies for individuals and households to save money and help reduce greenhouse emissions include:

  • Writing a weekly meal plan and shopping list, checking cupboard and fridge before you go shopping
  • Ensuring food is stored correctly to prevent spoilage
  • Composting food scraps or use worm farms
  • Using leftover ingredients or freeze leftover meals
  • Learning portion sizes and how much to cook for each person
  • Freezing bread and frozen vegetables
  • Choosing produce reduced due to small scratches or size differences
  • Asking for smaller portions when eating out

Strategies for businesses including restaurants and large companies include:

  • Participating in council or government initiatives and grants to reduce food waste
  • Using food waste for compost or fertilizer, saving money on landfill fees. By converting food waste to compost, methane emissions can be significantly reduced and soil carbon loss can be prevented.
  • Reviewing ordering systems and menus
  • Checking temperatures of store rooms to prevent spoilage
  • Donating extra food to food relief organisations - the demand for this is increasing with organisations including Foodbank,  Fareshare, Secondbite and OzHarzest
  • Offering a range of serving sizes
  • Offering imperfect produce to food relief agencies or at a cheaper price at the supermarket

The future and what is being done:

  • Education and consumer awareness, including campaigns (Food Wise)3 and state initiatives (Love Food Hate Waste)6.
  • Local councils offering food organics recycling.
  • Government and local council grants and initiatives.
  • Australian Government National Waste Policy.9
  • The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations global initiative on food loss and waste reduction.2
  • State targets, for example the NSW government has a target to increase food donation and divert 75% to landfill by 2021.10
  • Investing in alterative technology and infrastructure – anaerobic digestion and conversion to biogas

While some food waste is unavoidable, technologies are being developed to better deal with this waste. Alternative technologies include converting organic waste to compost, anaerobic digestion and pyrosis to form biochar. Biodigesters have the capacity to treat food waste generate electricity and produce compost for agricultural uses.

Energy360’s technologies have the capability to use anaerobic digestion to breakdown food production by-products into biogas as a source of renewable energy. This resource enables agricultural and food processing plants to profit from their waste.

By Australia making changes to the way food is produced, prepared, stored and disposed food waste can be significantly reduced, which will in return reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save water and provide social and economic benefits.


  1. WWF Food Waste
  2. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
  3. Food Wise
  4. Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy
  5. National Food Plan
  6. Love Food Hate Waste
  7. National Recycling Week
  8. Sustainability Victoria
  9. Australian Government National Waste Policy
  10. EPA NSW

More information:

Mason, L., Boyle, T., Fyfe, J., Smith, T., Cordell, D. (2011). National Food Waste Data Assessment: Final Report. Prepared for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney: Sydney.

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