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24 October 2016

Campaign takes aim at food waste, for the planet and family budgets

Tarbi toitu targalt (“consume food wisely”), co-led by SEI Tallinn and the Estonian Food Bank, seeks to raise awareness of the problem while offering tips and solutions to help consumers make smarter choices.

Food waste is a growing problem on a global scale. According to a recent report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), if food waste were a country, it would rank third after China and the U.S. in the top three of the biggest CO2 emitters.

The amount of money wasted by throwing away food is equally substantial: US$750 billion in 2007, according to FAO, equalling the Turkish or Swiss GDP in 2011. The Estonian food waste numbers have not reached the level of Western countries yet, but are nevertheless on the increase.

“What may come as a surprise is the fact that over 70% of the overall food waste in Estonia is generated by households rather than by the food industry or supermarkets,” said Harri Moora, a senior expert in SEI’s Tallinn Centre who has conducted several studies on food waste over the past few years. “This means that if we want to solve the problem, it is very important to target the general public and households which this campaign is aiming to do.”

The campaign, funded by the Estonian Environmental Investment Centre, includes a webpage with information about the food waste situation in Estonia as well as tips on how to waste less food, including a leftover recipe section by Estonian bloggers.

In addition, posters are on display on the streets in the three largest Estonian cities Tallinn, Tartu and Parnu, video advertisements by the prominent actress Evelin Võigemast are playing on local TV channels, and restaurants and all the country’s major supermarket chains are participating.

“People often say that nothing depends on them, but together with our food banks we have seen how big a change can be brought about by the choice of even one company to be responsible about their excess food and donate it to charity and helping people and families in need”, said Piet Boerefijn, director of the Estonian Food Bank, which since 2010 has been providing food to people going through hard times.

In fact, Boerefijn added, society would benefit if everyone took more care to avoid food waste. “Just as much depends on each citizen and how he or she handles food, “ he said.

According to SEI Tallinn’s research, an average Estonian family throws away around €120–200 worth of food each year, depending on the size of family. Altogether, this amounts to more than €63 million worth of food wasted in the country annually and more than 70,000 tonnes of food waste generated.

Katrin Bats, communication manager for Rimi, one of the supermarket chains that have joined the campaign, said reducing food waste is high on the company’s agenda, along with promoting healthy eating and environmentally friendly consumption.

“The campaign message corresponds with our values, and we have a feeling that it matters to our customers as well more and more each year,” she said. “We can think though our own business in order to waste less food and also to share the message for customers to do the same.”

* The image for this article shows the Consume food wisely campaign poster in the Rimi supermarket in Tallinn draws attention to the fact that the content of each 10th shopping bag bought in Estonia ends up in trash. This food could be used to give one proper meal every day to people in need.  

* The data mentioned in the article is taken from the surveys carried out by SEI Tallinn.

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