Australians severely underestimating financial and environmental cost of food waste


Planet Ark is encouraging Australian households, including those in Brimbank, to save themselves money and improve their environmental footprint this National Recycling Week by reducing food waste to landfill.

The call-to-action comes as research carried out on behalf of the environmental not-for-profit revealed households are not only vastly underestimating the costs of wasting food, but also mostly unaware of the negative environmental impact of sending food waste to landfill.

The nationally representative survey showed Australians estimate their household to lose just $21 per week to food waste, when the actual reported cost is almost double at $41 per week. Cumulatively, households are therefore underestimating their financial loss from food waste by over $1,000 per year. Furthermore, only two fifths of Australians correctly identified that food waste in landfill has a negative impact on the environment due to producing methane as it decomposes.

Planet Ark chief executive Rebecca Gilling said we have known for some time that while news about plastic pollution grabs the headlines, the biggest waste issue in Australia is food waste.

“Up to half of what the average household sends to landfill is made up of food organics and this has a negative impact not only on the hip pocket but also on our greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

When food scraps are sent to landfill, the absence of oxygen means they decompose in an anaerobic environment and produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

“The good news is that by reducing food waste in the first instance, by buying and storing food carefully, then reducing what is sent to landfill by composting leftover food scraps, Australians can save money and have a significant positive impact on their environmental footprint,” Ms Gilling said.

The research also showed that while most Australians recycle standard kerbside recycling materials such as plastic, paper, glass and metal packaging at least weekly, only just over a third compost food scraps either at home, through council services or using community gardens at least weekly.

Running from November 13 – 19, National Recycling Week provides an opportunity for residents and workplaces to learn simple methods of reducing their environmental footprint and preventing waste.

This year’s theme “What goes around, comes around” is all about providing simple and actionable tips that enable Australians to keep those valuable materials in circulation, whether at home, work or school.

Last year, independent Planet Ark research revealed Australian households were potentially sending nearly 2.5 million tonnes of unnecessary waste to landfill. An estimated 9-18 per cent (441,000 tonnes conservatively) of all material sent to landfill by households is likely recyclable, while a massive 41-52 per cent could be composted at home or organic processing facilities.

Addressing food waste and ensuring packaging is correctly recycled therefore form a major component of this year’s National Recycling Week resources and activities. Residents can host or join recycling themed events, brush up on their recycling knowledge with educational resources, learn about new developments in recycling policy and technology or discover tricks to reduce what they are sending to landfill and ensure resources don’t go to waste.

National Recycling Week was founded in 1996 as an opportunity for Australians to take waste and recycling into their own hands by improving their recycling knowledge and building better recycling habits. Since then, the annual recycling rate in Australia has increased from just seven per cent, or 1.5 million total tonnes recycled, to more than 60 per cent of all disposed materials.