Waste not, want not: China’s effective solution to food wastage

The top 10 food wasters in the world are Australia, USA, Turkey, Spain, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Italy, Morocco and Portugal.

In Summary

•Food wastage is fast turning into a global epidemic. According to the United Nations, about half of all fruit and vegetables produced globally are wasted each year. 

•China’s legislation serves as an effective deterrent to the wanton dumping of scarce resources.   

The new law encourages Chinese people to conserve food and reduce wastage.
JUST ENOUGH: The new law encourages Chinese people to conserve food and reduce wastage.

It’s now official. Wasting food in China is now a criminal offence punishable by law. According to the Bill passed on April 29, 2021, by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, food sellers face hefty fines for indulging their clients in ways that lead to food wastage.

The new law targets those who mislead consumers to “order excessive meals and cause obvious waste” through warning by local authorities, and subsequent fines of up to 10,000 yuan (£1,140) for non-compliance. The law also empowers restaurants to charge patrons extra money for excessive amounts of leftovers.

The draft law also stipulates non-compliance fines for a broadcaster on radio, TV, or online which produces publishes or disseminates the promotion of food waste, including overeating. Failure to comply with a formal warning by government authorities could result in penalties of up to 100,000 yuan and the suspension of business “for rectification”.

The law is aimed at ensuring food security in the country of 1.4 billion people. According to a 2015 study by the China Academy of Science, residents in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai wasted 17 to 18 million tons of food, which is adequate to feed 30 to 50 million people.

A quarter of the wasted food comprised rice and noodles, and about 18 percent meat. In addition, China also loses more than 35 billion kilogrammes of grain loss at pre-consumption stages, including storage, transportation and processing, said the report.

Statistics contained in a study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) show that China wastes 50 million tonnes of grain annually, accounting for one-tenth of the country's total grain output. It is also estimated that enough food to feed 200 million people, about one-sixth of the country's population, goes to waste annually.

Indeed, food wastage is fast turning into a global epidemic. According to the United Nations, about half of all fruit and vegetables produced globally are wasted each year. Even though, China is not yet among the top countries that lead in food wastage.

DELAWARE, USA: Expired fruits from a supermarket in Wilmington, Delaware. In the United States, 40 per cent of food goes to waste; most of it is thrown out by households, restaurants and stores.
Image: Reuters

According to Statista, a German company specialising in market and consumer data, the top 10 countries that waste the most food per capita include Australia, the US, Turkey, Spain, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Italy, Morocco and Portugal.

Key facts by FAO

  • Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted.
  • Food losses and waste amount to about US$ 680 billion in developed countries and US$ 310 billion in developing ones.
  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
  • Global quantitative food waste per year is roughly 30 per cent for cereals, 40-50 per cent for root crops, fruits, and vegetables, 20 per cent for oilseeds, meat and dairy plus 30 per cent for fish.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • Total per capita food production for human consumption is about 900 kg a year in rich countries, almost twice the 460 kg a year produced in the poorest regions.
  • In developing countries, 40 per cent of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialised countries more than 40 per cent of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.

Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labor, and capital, and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.

  • Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.
  • In medium and high-income countries, food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. Differing from the situation in developing countries, the behavior of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries.
The new legislation also aims to preserve scarce resources and ensure food security.
CHINA RURAL FARM: The new legislation also aims to preserve scarce resources and ensure food security.
Image: Reuters

The report notes that in developing countries, food waste occurs mainly at the early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities.

“Strengthening the supply chain through the direct support of farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food and packaging industry could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste,” says the report, adding that there is need to engage industries, retailers and consumers to find beneficial use for food that is presently thrown away in order to drastically decrease the amount of losses and waste.

While various approaches have been touted to curb food wastage, China’s legislation serves as an effective deterrent to the wanton dumping of scarce resources. It also raises awareness of the need for those who can afford to eat to always be cognizant that a large part of the world’s population sleeps hungry and, therefore, it is actually immoral to throw away fresh food or to let it go to waste.   

The writer is the Executive Director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi based research and development communication think tank.