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Popular Science: How much food do Czech households waste?

Food waste is a global problem. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation, UN), 1/3 of the food produced worldwide – 1.2 billion tonnes – is wasted each year. Data provided by the EU indicate that 20% of food in Europe remains unconsumed. Countries around the globe have all agreed on the urgent need to reduce such waste. For example, as part of target 12.3 of the Sustainable development goals (SDGs) programme, member states of the UN have called for per capita global food waste to be halved by 2030. To achieve these goals, detailed monitoring is essential. However, reliable and coherent data are often missing. An analysis by Petra Novákovás (Faculty of Science alumna), which I am going to introduce in this article, should help fill some of these gaps. Svatava Janoušková from the Faculty of Science, Charles university, also collaborated in this research.

Food can be lost during any phase of the food supply chain. Previous research has suggested that households in developed countries (including the Czech Republic) generate the most waste. Therefore, scientists selected a representative sample of 403 Czech households and asked them to record their food waste over the duration of 1 week. In total, 958 respondents reported their results via kitchen diaries, where they described not only the amount and type of the waste, but also the routes and reasons for its disposal.

How much do we waste in the Czech Republic?

The researchers found that an average Czech citizen wastes approximately 57 kg of food per year. Thus, the total amount of food waste for the Czech Republic is estimated to be more than 605,500 tonnes per annum. Compared with other countries, the authors consider this a positive result. For example, food waste per capita in Hungary is 11 kg higher per annum than in the Czech Republic.

Figure. 1. Avoidable food waste per year in Czechia: The tracks filled by the waste would occupy a 650-km long route. (Illustration image) Source: original study (available on https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/10/4/875).

What type of food do we waste the most? And why?

Based on further data, the authors divided food waste into 2 categories.

The first group – unavoidable food waste – includes the parts of food that are inedible. It mostly comprises parts of vegetables and fruit, such as peels or seeds, or bones and tea bags. This accounts for 41% of total food waste.

The remaining 59% consists of avoidable food waste. This means that the food is thrown away even though it could have been consumed (when appropriately treated). The reason for such waste is mostly food spoilage (especially vegetables and bakery products). Another reason for disposing of the food is that the respondents often cook/prepare/serve simply too much. In total, Czech households waste approximately 355,000 tonnes of edible food per annum. As illustrated in Figure 1, scientists explain: “This amount of food waste would fill up about 100,000 small trucks. If these were lined up close together on a road, they would occupy the 650 km-long route from Prague to Hamburg, Germany.”

Which households waste the most?

The study revealed that the larger the family, the smaller the amount of food wasted per capita. While a person living alone disposes of 1.4 kg of food a week, each member of a 4-person family wastes only 0.83 kg. The reason for this is clear. People from families with fewer members tend to buy large cost-effective packages and cook larger meals in order to save time. However, fewer people means less food is consumed; therefore, they are more likely to throw the food away.

Figure 2. Biogas plants: one of the ecological approaches to food waste disposal. The energy from rotten food is used for other purposes (e.g., for generating electricity). Photo: Kateřina Tancmanová.

What disposal routes do we use in Czechia?

More than half of the food waste is thrown into municipal residual waste bins (51%) and into the sewer systems (8%). At this point, the authors identify the greatest weakness of Czech households, and also the state system.

In the Czech Republic, almost half the municipal residual waste ends up in landfills. The food then rots and contributes to the production of methane (a significant greenhouse gas). Conversely, the food in the sewers may negatively affect wastewater treatment and the function of the sewer system.

Both routes, however, are considered unecological. A more effective and environment-friendly solution must therefore be identified and implemented. The authors of the study propose using biogas plants, where the energy of the rotten food can be employed for other purposes such as generating electricity (see Figure 2).

Households themselves could separate the waste, compost it, or feed it to their animals. These actions are considered less burdensome for the environment. People in the Czech Republic do use these methods, but not as much as they should. The authors of the study state that we urgently need to change our habits and system. They further warn that if the Czech Republic does not incorporate sustainable solutions into its disposal system, then international targets will not be met.

The analysis introduced in this paper has provided a detailed insight into food waste by Czech households. Beneath the raw data lies a clear moral imperative. If you have been asking yourself certain ethical questions (related either to the climate crisis or hunger and undernourishment in the world) while reading this article, you may now see how complex the problem is. It is apparent that an effective solution is contingent on governments and international organisations as well as on individuals. So… what will you throw away next time?

Kateřina Tancmanová

Nováková, P., Hák, T., & Janoušková, S. (2021). An Analysis of Food Waste in Czech Households—A Contribution to the International Reporting Effort. Foods, 10(4), 875. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods10040875

Published: Oct 04, 2021 04:15 PM

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