When I was in college I shared a student apartment with four other guys. One of them had a particularly annoying habit of returning to the digs every Sunday evening and clearing out his section of the fridge straight into the bin.
Each week entire unopened packets of ham, cheese, or tubs of butter etc would just be chucked out and the unnecessary waste never seemed to bother him in the slightest.
Coming, as I do, from a textbook working class background, this was the culinary equivalent of the unforgivable sin. At the time I put it down to two things; immaturity and the fact that the guy was clearly from a ‘monied’ background. So, each Sunday I would find myself thinking things like, “tis easy known he has it.”
But the reality is that food waste is an enormous, if hidden, issue in Irish society, and one that is present across all socio-economic categories.
In fact, it has recently been confirmed that food waste is costing each Irish household about €700 every year. To put that in some kind of context; €700 is about two thirds of the average annual ESB bill.
Others put the cost to households at the much higher rate of €1000 per year.
The scale of this waste at the national level is where the picture becomes truly disturbing. Here, we are wasting nearly 1 million tonnes of food annually.
That is more than the combined weight of all the packaging waste that was recycled in Ireland in 2017 (681,164 tonnes) and the incinerated packaging waste (210,023 tonnes) that was disposed of in the same year.
The situation is even more stark at the global level where it is estimated that one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted each year.
Analysis conducted by the Department of Communications, the Environment and Climate Change suggests however that the worst offenders in terms of Irish waste are actually in the retail and catering sectors, which accounts for about a third of Irish waste.
Then there is a “somewhat smaller share of waste from consumers, and somewhat larger share from producers.”
Minister Richard Bruton has said that Ireland aims to halve food waste by 2030 in line with the United Nations sustainable development goals and the EU’s circular economy action plan.
That will require significant changes to the behaviours nearly all of us appear to engage in at some level-although much of these, it has to be said, are almost unavoidable given the way in which food is currently packaged.
This of course raises the perfectly legitimate question of who should be picking up the tab for the costs associated with food waste. Should it be the householder, or should it be the producer/retailer?
The issue is not too dissimilar to those that surround the application of the carbon tax to people who have no way of avoiding it, i.e., the inability to buy an electric car.
In contrast to the massive amount of food we waste in this part of the globe, there is also the fact that approximately 820 million people in the world are still hungry today.
In fact, the UN has recently reported that hunger is rising in almost all sub-regions of Africa and, to a lesser extent, in Latin America and Western Asia.
All told there are about 2 billion people in the world today who experience moderate or severe food insecurity.
At the more local level if our own government do introduce measures to try and tackle food waste in Ireland, we can only hope that they will be targeted primarily at the producers and the retailers.
For as irritating as it is to witness excessive food waste, it is even more irritating to see people punitively taxed for actions they cannot avoid.