According to a recent estimate from MTT Agrifood Research Finland, the Finnish food chain wastes just short of 400 million kilograms (kg) of food a year. The amount of waste in the food industry is on average approximately 100 million kg. The number one source of avoidable food waste is still households, which throw out almost 130 million kg of food a year.
MTT Agrifood Research Finland’s recently completed Foodspill I project has carried out the first national total calculation of where food waste happens. An average of 330-460 million kg of edible food is wasted in the food chain every year.
“Altogether food waste amounts to 10-15 % of all food consumption,” says the project leader, Research Manager Juha-Matti Katajajuuri.
At food chain level, the social effects of waste are significant.
“Producing food that is then thrown away is a large and a completely unnecessary burden on the environment,” says MTT research scientist Kirsi Silvennoinen.
Households number one - followed by food industry
Of the various parts of the food chain, the most waste takes place in households, which throw away a total of 120-160 million kg of originally edible food a year.
The first research results show that 75-140 million kg of edible food is wasted in the food industry. This is equivalent to an average of approximately 3% of the total volume produced by the food industry.
Research assistant Heta-Kaisa Koivupuro points out, however, that unlike in shops, restaurants or households, only a small proportion of the food waste arising from industry is made up of finished food products. The majority of the food waste in industry comes from the industrial processing of raw ingredients, where, in practice, food waste is impossible to avoid completely. This being the case, it does not make sense to compare the amount of waste from the industry directly with that from the other parts of the food chain.
“The food industry produces a large number of side streams, not all of which can clearly be divided into edible and non-edible. If calculations of food waste from the food industry included all the side streams that could be seen as edible in principle, eg, the waste from milling grain and processing vegetables, the amount could be considerably higher than that stated,” Koivupuro says.
Saarioinen Oy’s Quality Manager Maarit Kyyrö says that side streams from industry which are suitable for human consumption can also go to waste because there are insufficient buyers for the products that can be made from them. Consumers’ consumption habits thus do not only affect the wastage of food in households but also in other parts of the chain.
Less waste in Finland than in other countries
According to Katajajuuri, who has monitored the international situation, the Finnish food chain produces less than 100 kg of food waste per person. Much higher waste figures have been published in research into European and other Western countries, closer to 200 kg per consumer.
“The big differences in the results are partly due to different calculation and measurement methods and to a wide range of definitions of food waste. We are currently launching a major EU project to harmonise calculations of the amount of food waste and to reduce it in line with EU targets,” he says.
Typically, the consumers’ share accounts for about 30-40%, but some research reports a considerably larger proportion. The rest of the waste comes from other parts of the food chain.
“Although Finland is not a major producer of food waste, the edible food we throw away amounts to about 1% of Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions. This means 500-1000 million carbon dioxide equivalent kilograms just chucked into the air unnecessarily,” says Katajajuuri.
Why is food wasted?
MTT has just launched the KURU project, which will explore the reasons for domestic food waste and seek ways of reducing it. The project will examine which ways seem to be the most efficient and the easiest for consumers and the methods they themselves might already have used.
Waste composition analysis can be used to evaluate the reliability of previous research and to gain a more accurate picture of household food waste than before.
Funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Quality Chain and by industry, besides MTT the Foodspill I project involves the Finnish Solid Waste Association, Motiva, Arla Ingman, Valio, Ingman Ice Cream, Atria, HK Ruokatalo, Saarioinen, Kokkikartano, Kauppapuutarhaliitto, Palmia, Tampereen Ateria, UniCafe and the Association of Packaging Technology and Research PTR.