What whopping wasters we are: SA is a top food dumper
We toss more household food than our sub-Saharan African neighbours, although we fare better than the Europeans
Out the fridge, off our plates or from our pots – and straight into the dustbin.
South Africans are each wasting up to 12kg of food every year by throwing it away, resulting in a mass of up to 51,000 tons of food going to landfills per annum.
This is only at household level and does not count all the food that goes to waste in the retail industry.
On the downside, we’re wasting more than our neighbours in sub-Saharan Africa. But on the upside, we’re wasting way less than Europeans who are each disposing of a whopping 95kg of food per year.This busts a commonly held myth (untested up to now) that developing countries are throwing more food into their bins than those in developed countries. But we should be striving for less waste nonetheless.
The study, carried out by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and just published in the South African Journal of Science, looked at municipal solid waste in two large metropoles in Gauteng, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg, which have a combined population of 8.33 million.
The researchers, Suzan Oelofse, Aubrey Muswema and Fhumulani Ramakuhwatho, collected data over a six-week period covering a “representative sample of the municipal waste collection routes from households” in the two municipalities over a wide range of socio-economic (meaning income) differences.
The data came from the trash of about 65,000 households, and it was found that the amount of waste per capita would average out to 8kg to 12kg per year.
They said “it is evident from this study that initiatives focusing on urban households’ food waste reduction” could divert “significant amounts of food waste from landfill”.
What is the psychology behind throwing food away?
According to another study, done in Russia and also published this month, people throw food away because of “lack of planning of food shopping” or “poor food storage practices”, among others.
In South Africa, it is not only poor food storage practices but often a lack of access to fridges.
In the Russian study, done by the National Research University and published in the Journal of Economic Sociology, it was found that “people who perceive food primarily as a source of pleasure rather than just ‘fuel’ for the body tend to reject leftovers and insist on eating freshly cooked food”.On the other end of the socio-economic spectrum, “people raised in poverty and scarcity make sure no food goes to waste”.
Instead of letting food go to waste, some people find ways to use it, such as “giving it to neighbours and friends”, “feeding pets or stray animals”, and “processing and preserving”.
Then there is the matter of cultural memory: in Russia, say the authors, “gastronomic trauma” dating back to the years of hunger and scarcity during World War 2, the post-war years and the 1990s is a big factor.
For many South African households, such scarcity is still a reality of everyday life, not because of production but because of inefficient distribution.
Statistics South Africa says “malnutrition remains a serious challenge in South Africa” with one in four children stunted, and malnutrition stubbornly high at around 20%.
Dr Nisha Naicker, a researcher at the Medical Research Council, warns that food insecurity “has been linked to detrimental health outcomes such as obesity, chronic diseases and mental health disorders in adults”.
In children, it is linked with stunting, poor development and decreased academic ability.