Case Studies

How food waste is managed in Australia

Department of the Environment and Energy, 2017

1. Supporting efficiency and innovation in agriculture

Key players: Australian Government, state and territory governments, primary producers, academic institutions.

In Australia food that does not make it to the consumer can result from weather, pest and diseases or not meeting market specifications. Some businesses have identified opportunities to use unwanted produce—for example, turning broken or bent carrots into packaged carrot sticks for sale in supermarkets.

2. Assessing food ordering, transport and storage practices

Key players: food and grocery retailers, primary producers.

Food and grocery retailers are assessing their supply chains to maximise the shelf life of food and to improve their ordering systems so that the food ordered accurately reflects demand.

Households should consider the food they buy and how they store it. They should only buy what is needed and use ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates effectively.

3. Using packaging effectively and sustainably

Key players: food processing and manufacturing industries, state and territory governments, Standards Australia, Australian Government.

Effective use of packaging can increase the shelf-life of food products but it can also make food waste unsustainable for composting if it is not disposed of separately. The Australian Government partners with other jurisdictions and industry through the Australian Packaging Covenant to improve packaging design and increase the recycling of packaging.

4. Encouraging partnerships between food and grocery retailers and charitable organisations

Key players: food and grocery retailers, food rescue organisations.

Major food and grocery retailers in Australia have partnered with food recovery organisations and committed to reducing the amount of food waste that goes to landfill. This means retailers can meet their food waste reduction goals and also help charities to alleviate poverty and reduce food insecurity.

5. Conducting household education and community initiatives

Key players: state and territory governments, local governments, not-for-profit organisations.

A number of state and territory governments have invested in public education campaigns to reduce food waste. Some local councils are also encouraging home composting by providing their residents with home compost bins or offering a rebate on composting equipment.

6. Diverting food waste from the commercial food sector

Key players: state and territory governments, commercial food sector, academic institutions, not-for-profit organisations.

Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have piloted programs to turn food waste from commercial kitchens into compost or fertiliser. Businesses save money because they no longer have to pay landfill fees. Tools for businesses to self-assess their food waste practices have also been developed, including the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s DIRECT, the ‘Dynamic Resource Efficiency Calculation Tool’.

7. Investing in alternative treatment technology and infrastructure

Key players: state and territory governments, private sector, Australian Government.

A number of states are upgrading their waste treatment infrastructure, particularly for organic waste. For example, in May 2017 a large scale biodigester was opened in Western Australia to treat food waste, generate electricity and produce compost for agricultural uses. These investments are often funded through landfill levies.

8. Finding incentives for alternatives to disposing of food waste in landfill

Key players: state and territory governments, waste management sector, private sector.

Because landfill is relatively cheap in Australia compared to other parts of the world, it can be difficult to make alternative food waste treatment technologies cost effective. To address this problem, most states and territories have introduced levies or fees to dispose of organic waste to landfill. This makes alternative treatment methods such as biodigestion and composting more cost effective options for businesses.

9. Creating value from food waste

Key players: academic institutions, Australian Government research institutions, private sector.

A number of research and development activities are taking place to find the best value uses for food waste. Research organisations, including CSIRO Agriculture and Food, are supporting the development and commercialisation of new bio-products.

10. Standardising data to measure food waste and track its reduction

Key players: waste management sector, state and territory governments, private sector, Australian Government.

Standardising waste data will allow more consistency between the states and territories and is supported by the food industry. The Australian Government can assess where national standards will make a difference—for example, where standards can be used to reduce the costs associated with meeting different state and territory requirements.


Tough times

In October 2011 the Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) Annual Poverty Statement said that more than 480,000 Queenslanders were living in poverty, with seniors and other Queenslanders on fixed incomes hit particularly hard by increases in household expenses.</p> <p>The number of people needing help has grown rapidly over the past few years due to a deteriorating economy and a string of natural disasters. Traditional groups such as the homeless and unemployed are now joined by ordinary families and pensioners who cannot make ends meet and have never needed assistance before.</p> <p>“Demand has doubled in the last few years, firstly as a result of the global financial crisis, followed by the summer disasters of 2011,” Ken said. “The natural disasters greatly impacted on Foodbank and its charities, particularly in the first few months after the events. Our logistical resources were stretched to the limit and we were delivering emergency relief to places and welfare agencies where we had never been. We are still involved in flood relief 12 months after the event,” Ken said. </p> <p>At the same time, flood damage reduced the supply of fresh produce. Generous donors like the Rocklea markets and Tully banana farmers suffered severe damage in the floods, losing their own livelihoods. </p> <p>Finding enough food to fill the Foodbank pantry is a constant challenge. “One third of all food produced in Australia is wasted. Most of that is edible and most of it ends up as landfill. Our aim is to capture as much food surplus as possible and pass it on to the poor,” Ken concluded.



In the front line

Suncoast Christian Care Co-op in Nambour on the Sunshine Coast is one of the agencies working to help low-income families and individuals to put food on the table. They run a low-cost food co-op, The Co-op has seen an increase of approximately 30% in membership in the past 12 months as the number of people unable to afford the bare necessities of life increases. People who may be ill or disabled, unemployed, single mums or pensioners are finding that budgets do not stretch far enough, once essential bills are paid, to feed themselves or the family nutritious meals. Members choose their items in a mini-mart set-up. Food Items are low-priced to contribute towards the basic expenses of running the co-op. “People can fill a trolley for approximately $20,” Hugh said. Volunteers and Work for the Dole participants staff the co-op. To join the co-op proof of low income is required, such as a health care card or aged pension card. There is a low membership fee to join (currently $5) and the co-op is open five days a week. Hugh emphasised that the co-op treats members with dignity and care. Members often enjoy a friendly chat over a cup of tea or a reassurance that they or their loved ones will be remembered in a daily prayer that starts each day at the co-op. As with most welfare groups, it is becoming harder to meet increased need for free or subsidised food. “We need much more fresh stuff from businesses and individuals. Money donations are welcome but if more people could bring in excess home-grown produce, it would really help.”






Australia’s throw away up to 20% of the food they purchase (that’s 1 out of every 5 bags of groceries!). This adds up to $8 billion worth of edible food being wasted each year.

An estimated 20-40% of fruit & vegies are rejected even before they reach the shops (for not being pretty enough).

Food waste that ends up in landfill gives off a greenhouse gas called methane (which is 25 times more potent than the exhaust from your car).