Five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly set optimistic goals for the world of tomorrow. Ranging from access to education to gender equality, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also included a vision to halve global food waste at the retail level and by consumers here. 2030.
But as the fifth anniversary of this project approaches, strong ambition does not turn into action. Governments that have created their own action plans in response to the SDGs have the power to create change for 50% of the world’s population, if they act on those plans now. However, only 12% measure food loss and waste and only 15% take real and progressive measures. So where are we going?
One of the reasons that managing food waste can seem so difficult is its complexity. Each segment of society has specific and individual challenges. If we develop a perfect system for storing food in a school canteen, it is unlikely that this same solution will solve the problem of home composting. This is made worse by the lack of responsibilities. National and international goals, like the UN goals, are important, but they can easily seem like a problem that is not ours.
This is where cities can make a difference. Cities have the infrastructure, connections and local knowledge to turn food waste from something abstract into something tangible. Because they are able to see, in detail, where food waste occurs, to carry out much more targeted actions and to considerably accelerate progress. Municipalities have access and visibility in school canteens, in what people throw in the trash and in the amount of food waste that garbage collection services collect in street bins of public buildings or establishments.
Cities are also under additional pressure, the 2015 Paris Agreement, which requires reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% – and the European Union is expected to cut to 55% before the end of 2020. The reduction food waste is the best way to achieve these goals.
This is an opportunity we cannot afford to waste. Cities are not only well placed to tackle the problem of food waste, but they are also solely responsible for its creation. Consumers of resources and densely populated, they account for 75% of global carbon emissions, while they cover only 2% of the planet. Food waste in terms of consumption is 70% in the EU and 83% in the US. And the problem will only get worse: by 2050, two-thirds of us will live in cities. In order to have a chance to meet the 2030 goals, we need cities to start playing a much more global and active role in the fight against food waste.
Achieving these goals will not be easy, but it can be done. Paris is a prime example. After discovering that its citizens were throwing away unpackaged food at a rate twice the national average, the city of Paris developed a food waste reduction plan including information kits for local shops, dedicated stands unsold products in neighborhood markets and consumer awareness through zero waste brunches. The city now believes it will be able to halve food waste by 2025.
In Milan, efforts to curb food waste are spreading through society, and schools in the city are distributing take-out packages to students to keep half-finished lunches from ending up in the trash. To date, more than 31,000 take-out packages have been distributed to 85 schools. A quarter of schools in Milan are now partners in food donation initiatives. In addition, since 2014, every family and every house has had a service that separates bio-recycling from other household waste, ready to be transformed into compost or biogas. In 2018, in response to a nationwide pledge that food businesses would benefit from tax cuts to redistribute surplus food, the city seized the opportunity and made it mandatory for all food businesses in Milan to redistribute it via food institutions. charities and food banks.
The clock for the 2030 climate targets is getting shorter and shorter. As the pandemic shines a light on the food system and leads many of us to reexamine our relationship with food, now is the time for municipalities and local authorities to realize that the ball is in their court.
In Portugal too, in cities like Lisbon and Porto, recycling and composting are already slogans and priorities. Programs such as selective door-to-door collection and Lisboa a Compostar are part of the national strategy for urban waste. In Porto, the city intends to continue investing in sustainability education / awareness programs, with projects such as municipal gardens that aim to contribute to the food security of citizens with minimal use of public resources. , or the “Embrulha” project, a joint initiative of the Porto Chamber and LIPOR against food waste.
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But individual initiatives and campaigns are not enough. To help us win the fight against food waste, we need to learn from good practice initiatives in several countries, as well as from all city stakeholders, and transform them into a structure that can be used and applied by all cities, everywhere. This structure should be built around four basic principles: separate organic waste from all other types of waste; measure and monitor what is wasted and by whom; redistribute the food surplus using one of the many economical solutions available free of charge; and, finally, transforming any food that cannot be consumed into energy, fuel or animal feed.
The clock for the 2030 climate targets is getting shorter and shorter. As the pandemic shines a light on the food system and leads many of us to reexamine our relationship with food, now is the time for municipalities and local authorities to realize that the ball is in their side, it is time to show political leadership to define concrete goals, working alongside the whole city and all its stakeholders to make the concept of “cities without food waste” a reality.