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The COVID-19 pandemic has “derailed” Australia's progress in minimising food waste, with stockpiling and an uptick in the utilisation of food delivery services leading to households throwing out almost 13% of their weekly groceries.

Australians are now forking out an unparalleled $1,043 a year on food they end up wasting, a figure that has ballooned the nation’s yearly wasted-food bill to $10.3 billion. At the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 exploded in Australia, the country was on course to spend $8.64 billion in food waste, a 14% decrease from the previous year.

"It’s to be expected that food waste has been de-prioritised by Australians during this stressful year when our attention has been focused on other urgent issues,” Glenn Wealands from Rabobank Australia, the organisation behind the latest food waste figures, said in a statement Monday.

Wealands added: ”We were making headway in terms of minimising food waste before we faced this pandemic; however, our research shows we’ve headed off track. The average household is now wasting nearly 13% of the groceries they buy and also spending more on food delivery and self-prepare food services. We’ve also seen almost 10% of households increasing their spend on food to stockpile items in case supply ran out during lockdown.”

Over 2,000 Australians were surveyed once in March and again in September this year.

The report revealed every Australian state except Tasmania had increased food waste, excluding the Northern Territory which was not surveyed. City folk were more wasteful than those in the country, as were men compared to women. 

Globally, a third of all food ever produced is lost or wasted. 

If just a quarter could be spared each year, it could well sustain the 800 million people that are currently undernourished. Not only has the pandemic exacerbated food loss, it has also increased the number of individuals living with food insecurity and extreme poverty.

Reducing food waste would also greatly benefit the environment, according to food relief charity OzHarvest. Around 8% of all greenhouse gases stem from wasted food — predominantly due to the methane that is released when food sits in landfills and the significant volumes of water and land required for its production. 

"[In Australia], over 5 million tonnes of food ends up as landfill annually, enough to fill 9,000 Olympic sized swimming pools,” OzHarvest explains. “Meanwhile, nearly 4 million [Australians] experience food insecurity each year; one-quarter are children."

With Australia now recording very few cases of COVID-19, Wealands has called on the country to get back on track. 

He said Australians should plan weekly meals before shopping, eat leftovers the next day, always shop with a list, freeze excess food and remember to check the use by dates on packages.


Defeat Poverty

Australia’s Food Waste Progress Has Been Massively Derailed by COVID-19

By Madeleine Keck