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What is causing New Zealand’s food waste problem?

Category food-waste better-together

With student demonstrations surging across the country, it’s no surprise that climate change is recognised as one of the biggest concerns keeping Kiwis up at night. According to our recent survey, New Zealanders from Generations X, Y and Z (born between 1965 - today) identified climate change as one of their top three key concerns for the next decade. However, our data shows that it is these same generations who are the biggest contributors to New Zealand’s mammoth annual food waste, one of the major causes of climate change. This is especially notable as our data is consistent with figures collected in 2017, showing that New Zealanders are not making crucial changes when it comes to the way they utilised food. In this article, we explore New Zealanders’ attitudes and behaviours towards food usage and identify key opportunities to reduce our nation’s waste.

People taking slices of pizza.

How big is the food waste problem in New Zealand?

To put a number on it, approximately 12% of all household food purchased in New Zealand goes to waste. That amounts to an estimated $1.17 billion of food wasted each year, just by households alone. Yet, four in five New Zealanders feel ‘annoyed’ when they waste food, with a further three quarters feeling ‘annoyed at others’ for their waste.

So, if our attitudes toward waste are right, where are we going wrong? Our research indicates that poor planning could be the main cause of the bulk of New Zealand’s food waste. Since 2017, there has been no significant change in New Zealand’s overall household food spend. However, 60% of New Zealanders say the main reason they discard food is because it goes off before they are able to finish it. Something as simple as planning your meals around ingredients that you already have can significantly impact the amount of waste your household is producing each year, and help your savings while you’re at it. The second leading cause for throwing food away is ‘food not being as good as you expected it to be when you bought it’, with 48% of New Zealanders listing this as one of their top three reasons. Both of these reasons indicate that the majority of household food waste is avoidable. It’s clear that as a nation, we need to re-think how we can reduce, reuse and recycle our food.

How can we reduce our food waste?

Use your leftovers

Fewer than half of New Zealanders always eat their leftovers from a previous meal. If this is a regular occurrence, it can add up to a huge amount of waste. Next time you cook a meal that you can’t finish, try using your leftovers by:

  • Eating them the next day
  • Using them to make new meals
  • Freezing them

Fully utilise your produce

Ensure that you are eating all edible parts of your produce to reduce food waste. Keeping skins on potatoes, crusts on bread and leaves on some root vegetables can bulk up your meals and cut down your rubbish.

A family cooking together.

Plan meals in advance

Only 33% of New Zealanders always plan their meals in advance. Spending a few minutes to think about what you’re going to eat, how many people you will be cooking for and what ingredients you already have at home can have a huge effect on both your wallet and your food waste.
Here are our top five tips for planning meals in advance:

  1. Write it down

    Always use a shopping list when you go to the supermarket. This will ensure you’re buying what you need and aren’t doubling up on ingredients that you already have.

  2. Portion control

    Only purchase and prepare what you’ll actually use. Is the quantity of food you’re buying appropriate for the number of people eating it? If you’re meal-prepping, will the food you’re cooking last until the end of the week?

  3. Scan your pantry

    Check what food you already have at home and choose recipes that use your perishable food before it goes off. If your milk is near its best before date, buy cereal for breakfast instead of toast. If your veggies are starting to get soft, whip up a stirfry for dinner. Prioritise the food you’ve already purchased.

  4. Think about your schedule

    If you know you won’t be home for dinner for the next three nights, try not to purchase food that will go off quickly. And if you know you’ll be busy in the morning, try and prepare your lunch in advance to avoid buying an additional meal and wasting the food you have at home.

  5. Don't plan too far ahead

    If you buy two weeks of fruit and vegetables at once, chances are some of them are going to go off before you have a chance to eat them. Think about when you will eat the food before you purchase it, and if possible buy less, more frequently.

Wiping leftover vegetables from a chopping board into a compost.

Use a compost bin or worm farm

Almost half of New Zealanders already compost food scraps at home, however, nearly half of the waste that ends up in New Zealand landfills is organic material. Composting, bokashi and worm farms are all natural ways of recycling and are useful for unavoidable food waste – those things you can’t eat like meat bones and eggshells. Try to use one of these methods instead of sending your scraps to the landfill, or see if you have a community compost system nearby.

Grow your own food

49% of New Zealanders grow their own fruit and vegetables, saving them money. Growing your own food is a great way to get fresh produce and prevent waste. Even better, use your compost to enrich your soil and help your vegetable garden thrive.

Give food you won't eat to someone who will

If you know that you’re not going to have time to prepare or eat your food, give it to a friend, flatmate, family member or colleague who will. You could also check your local city mission to see what food items they accept.

Buy local

When purchased from a supermarket, a meal generally uses 4-17 times more petrol for transport than it would if it was prepared with local ingredients. Buying local isn’t only helping our economy and supporting our farmers, but it is a significant help to our planet. Always aim to purchase local, in-season food and reduce excessive petrol use.

Understanding food production and buying local produce

New Zealanders have proven their interest in buying local and gaining a better understanding of food production. 50% of New Zealanders think that buying fresh produce is essential to their happiness and wellbeing. A further 65% of Kiwis reported that they would like to purchase more directly from food producers and 72% said they would be more likely to buy food that has been produced locally. These strong numbers are hugely promising for New Zealand’s agriculture sector. However, like with food waste, these attitudes aren’t necessarily translating into actions.

Women shopping at a local farmers market.

Why aren't Kiwis buying local?

Statistics show that Kiwis think buying local produce is simply too expensive. 38% of Kiwis labelled cost as the biggest barrier to buying local and only 46% agreed that they would be willing to pay more for food that has been produced locally.

This is unsurprising considering our research shows that fewer than one in five New Zealanders believe they are financially comfortable. In fact, half of New Zealanders have experienced challenges paying for essentials in the three months prior to our survey and more New Zealanders believe they will be worse off in 12 months’ time than those who believe they will be better off. Yet, despite significant financial concerns, the average household spend on food is still comparable to our findings in 2017. And only half of those who have less money now than they did 12 months ago have taken steps to waste less food.

Kiwis, especially generations Z and Y, are saving less, spending more, and wasting just as much as they did two years ago.

Save food and save your money

20% of New Zealanders told us that they generally don’t save any of their monthly income. With the rising concern of increasing living costs, we understand that saving can be difficult. However, saving more frequently, even if it’s just in small amounts, can really add up – especially with additional interest.

Reducing your food waste is a guaranteed way to reduce your weekly household spend and kick start your savings. You can also consider opening a secondary online savings account to keep this money at arm’s length for when you really need it. Whether that is for a home deposit, retirement, an emergency fund or just a rainy day, Rabobank has a range of Online Savings accounts that may suit you while also supporting local farmers and the New Zealand food production sector.

Click here to read more about Online Savings with Rabobank New Zealand Limited.

Statistics sourced from the Kantar Financial Health Barometer for Rabobank Online Savings (July 2019) and Love Food Hate Waste New Zealand.