Up to 20,000 tonnes of Coles’ food wastage will be composted instead of ending up in landfill each year, thanks to a new initiative with Cleanaway in Queensland. (Image source: Media Net)
By Jordan White| @JordanBWhite1
Up to 20,000 tonnes—or 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools—of food waste will be diverted from landfill in 111 Coles stores across Queensland.
Coles and waste management company Cleanaway have partnered to launch organics recovery technology in Brisbane to convert food wastage into nutrient-rich compost.
The de-packaging technology will process out-of-date and inedible food items from Coles stores, separating food from its packaging and turning it into nutrient-rich compost for farms, gardens, and parks.
Coles estimates the initiative will prevent 42,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of 17,365 vehicles on the road.
Coles chief sustainability, property and export office Thinus Keevé said the technology will help Coles combat food waste in Queensland while providing other businesses with a sustainable organics diversion solution.
“This new facility is central to our strategy of becoming Australia’s most sustainable supermarket, helping our Queensland stores reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and associated carbon footprint,” he said
“As one of Australia’s largest food retailers, we’re proud [to] be a market leader in food waste reduction and circular economy investment that helps to close the loop
“In FY20, we diverted 65 per cent of our food waste from landfill, and we have existing partnerships with food rescue organisations, farmers and wildlife services.”
Although the first of its kind in Queensland, 417 other Coles stores across Australia already utilise similar technologies to combat food waste.
The announcement comes after consumers have seen supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths stepping up their efforts to be more sustainable in recent years.
Both companies now recycle soft plastics and have ambitious energy goals in place.
They are not without conviction, though. Woolworths recently received backlash about the hypocrisy of their plastic Ooshies amid plans to reduce plastic while both stores have been abundantly criticised for their excessive plastic use. Food wastage: whose problem is it?
The short answer is everyone; food wastage is a large issue in Australia that we all need to help combat.
Over 5 million tonnes of food ends up in landfill each year, at an estimated cost of $20 billion, despite four million Australians experiencing food insecurity.
There is enough food globally to feed everyone and yet 710,000 people rely on food relief each month. 25 per cent of these people are children.
Food wastage is also a large environmental issue, too. It produced eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and throwing away one burger wastes the same amount of water as a 90-minute shower.
The food waste hierarchy is a proposed model for preventing and managing food waste.
It recognises avoiding and reusing food as the most preferable methods for dealing with food waste, with reprocessing, energy recovery, and disposal as less desirable.
Coles’ new food wastage plant sits somewhere between recycling and reprocessing. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but one of the most effective ways for large companies to combat food wastage is to avoid it altogether.
One of the largest barriers for food wastage is the quality standards large companies like Woolworths and Coles have in place.
Strict guidelines around the size, shape, and colour of produce mean a large volume of food will never reach the shelves and ends up wasted. However, these standards have been relaxed in recent years.
Following pressure from consumers and advocacy groups, Coles and Woolworths launched campaigns such as “I’m Perfect” and “The Odd Bunch” to sell more ‘ugly’ fruit.
These standards have been further relaxed recently, following a drop in stock because of COVID-19 and the drought.
It should be said the supermarket giants made these changes rather reluctantly and still cite ‘consumer demands’ for the strict guidelines, despite being the ones who shape these demands.
In an article for The Conversation, academics Carol Richards and Bree Hurst contend that large supermarkets push the problem of food wastage onto suppliers and charities.
Their market power enables large companies to do this and leaves consumers and suppliers with little choice but to contribute to food wastage.
How can we combat food waste at home?
Hunger relief charity, Foodbank, is one of the largest food relief organisations in Australia, providing more than 70 per cent of the food rescued for food relief organisations nationwide.
Foodbank works with farmers, grocery manufacturers, major food and grocery retailers, and the research community to prioritise food rescue over landfill.
“The most common cause of household food waste is produce left too long in the fridge or freezer, followed by people not finishing their meals,” According to Food Bank.
Smallholding owner and blogger Cara Allen tries to live as sustainably wherever possible and says banishing food waste starts in the house.
“I find fresh vegetables wouldn’t always get used quickly enough, before they started to go bad. So I now prepare them shortly after harvest or purchase into sizes I use and freeze them. Then I can just use what I need when I cook,” she said.
“Any scraps from preparing go to the rabbits, because they can eat just about any plant we can, except onion, garlic and potato. If there’s too much for them or they don’t like it, then I’ll chop them into beak sized pieces for the chickens. Potato peelings go in the compost, but chickens will eat onion and garlic.
Ms Allen said meat can be expensive and often comes clad in packaging, so she buys in bulk where possible to keep prices down and combat waste.
“I’ll lay them out on a tray to freeze separately and then store them in tubs in the deep freeze, just getting out what I need for each meal”
“Meat scraps and bones can be a bit more tricky than tvegetable scraps, but there are actually more options than you might think.
“Firstly, they can be saved in the freezer until you have enough to boil up for stock. I do this on the wood burner in winter or in a pressure cooker when it’s warmer. When bones have cooked for long enough they go soft and easily crumble.
“Some people will actually eat this, but I give them to our meat-eating animals. Just check first that they are completely soft and won’t cause shards. I have a pair of secateurs (clippers) in the kitchen for this purpose.”
Ms Allen said putting bones in the compost isn’t advised, but they can be dried and made into a bone meal or buried under tomato plants.
Ms Allen said some food items still get missed despite her efforts, mainly because of family members who like to leave part of their meal.
She still does her best by feeding scraps to the chickens, putting moldy food in the compost, and freezing meals and ingredients.