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‘Free Supermarket’ to Highlight Australia’s Multibillion Dollar Food Waste

  • Phil Mercer

Volunteers hand out free meals made from rescued ingredients organized by the charity organization Oz Harvest in Sydney's central business district, July 29, 2013. The organizers goal is to feed 5,000 people over a lunch period in a bid to raise awareness to the amount of food wasted each day.

Australia has opened a so-called rescued food supermarket that operates on a “take what you need, give what you can” model.

The market, known as Oz Harvest, was founded by a South African-born entrepreneur and is part of international efforts to curb global food waste.

Millions of meals

Ronni Kahn founded the Oz Harvest charity in 2004 because she was appalled by the amount of food wasted by Australia’s hospitality services.

In the past 13 years, Oz Harvest has received unwanted food from hundreds of restaurants and businesses, and has delivered more than 60 million meals to the needy across Australia.

It has now opened the country’s first rescued food supermarket in Sydney.

“The food that you are seeing in this supermarket today has come from everywhere in the food supply chain. … We have over 2,500 donors that give us food either on a daily (or) a weekly basis,” Kahn said.

FILE - Volunteers hand out free meals made from rescued ingredients organized by the charity organization Oz Harvest in Sydney's central business district, July 29, 2013. The organizers goal is to feed 5,000 people over a lunch period in a bid to raise awareness to the amount of food wasted each day.
FILE - Volunteers hand out free meals made from rescued ingredients organized by the charity organization Oz Harvest in Sydney's central business district, July 29, 2013. The organizers goal is to feed 5,000 people over a lunch period in a bid to raise awareness to the amount of food wasted each day.

Food waste

She said the project is helping to raise awareness of food waste around the world.

“A third of all food globally goes to waste,” she said. “That is unconscionable. People do not actually have a notion of what that could look like. Yes, that they know they walk into a supermarket and reject an apple but do not actually think what that means, and here in this free supermarket where you can take what you need and give if you can, it is to put out into the public that opportunity to come in and learn, come in and engage and it is a great collaboration.”

Australia is a throw-away society. It is estimated that food waste costs the economy about $15 billion a year.

About a third of all discarded produce is thrown away by businesses, sometimes because vegetables and fruit have blemishes or an irregular shape.

Business model creates waste

Food waste campaigner Katie Barfield says corporate Australia is very wasteful.

“Business models are set up to have waste,” she said. “So if you imagine you go into a bakery at the end of the day and there was just one loaf of bread — now that would be really good for the environment but really bad for the business, because no one wants to buy that loaf of bread and plus no one is really wanted to go in there for the last half-hour because there is nothing in there that looks particularly appetizing.

“So the way that industry works is that it will just fill the shelves, and it has to have a certain amount of product available at the close of trading and so it deliberately produces waste,” Barfield added.

Australia’s minister for the environment and energy, Josh Frydenberg, says wasted food depletes other precious resources.

“The excesses in the agricultural production, the land and the water that is wasted producing that surplus food that we do not eat, as well as the landfill and the environmental cost that we incur,” he said, listing the resources. “We need to improve our supply chains.”

And then there is the issue of feeding the hungry.

“With more than 600,000 Australians seeking food relief every month, we also have a moral imperative to ensure we reduce our food waste and that the surplus food goes to those most in need,” Frydenberg said.

Under the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, food waste is to be reduced globally by 50 percent by 2030. The Australian government has adopted a similar target.

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