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Sustainable Food Systems: Why It’s Not Just About You

In Germany alone, 11 million tonnes of food waste gets thrown away every year. With such a massive amount of food going to waste, this is one of the greatest opportunities to have an impact on the amount of waste we produce around the world.

For many people starting out on their zero waste journey, food is the first place they look to change. Buying groceries with less plastic packaging, being careful about using up leftovers – these are all easy ways to reduce food waste as an individual. But for such a huge and far-reaching problem as food waste, it needs to go much further.

Supermarkets, hospitality locations, farms, and other businesses that work in the food industry also need to play their part. In the UK, a report by Wrap, the waste-reduction body, found that £1bn worth of food was thrown away before even reaching supermarkets. From there, supermarkets also produce huge amounts of waste. British supermarket chain, Tesco, reported that they found 30,000 tonnes of food going to waste each year across their stores.

The solution needs to include both individual consumers and industry stakeholders if it’s going to succeed. Some businesses are already doing their part to tackle food waste, like Berlin-based Roots Radicals. Their project aims to reconnect people with food, by sharing resources and selling zero waste products in their shop.

In an interview with ZWBF, founder Monica Kisic explained that “solving food waste is definitely a collaborative effort. It’s not about only citizens or only industry.”

Ultimately, industries will only change if consumers demand change and consumers will only change if industries give them alternatives. A true solution needs to be circular.

So how can we go about bringing those changes into action? To start, industries need to be more regulated, especially older ones. Younger startups like Roots Radicals are often built on sustainable foundations or know that they need an eco-edge to drum up business with younger, environmentally-focused consumers. Older companies don’t have that same pressure. Introducing incentives for less wasteful organisations and taxes for the most wasteful could go a long way for encouraging change

Food waste is also heavily linked to agriculture. That means that conversations and plans to reduce food waste need to include farmers and agricultural leaders. The most sustainable food solutions will come from those that include stakeholders at every stage of the supply chain, from the farmer planting the first seed to the consumer putting the food item in their cupboard.

Of course, these are big plans to make. No matter what stage you’re at when it comes to zero waste, there is something you can do today to bring that ideal sustainable food solution closer to reality. 

If you have never really thought about your personal food waste before… 

Then now is the time to start. Find a zero waste food store nearby, buy loose groceries with minimal packaging, and try to shop local wherever possible, from farmer’s markets or similar. Plan your meals in advance as well, so you only need to buy exactly what you need.

If you’re already doing all of those things…

You’re ready to take this one step further. Head out into your community and see if you can reduce food waste on a larger scale. In your workplace, schools, universities – essentially wherever you have some say in what goes on, brainstorm ideas for how to reduce waste. 

That might mean switching food suppliers to somewhere more local, donating food to homeless shelters, taking in food that would otherwise go to waste in supermarkets. Whatever it is, once you introduce those ideas to a bigger organisation, you’re increasing your impact hugely.

If all of that is old news to you…

Then it’s time to look at the wider implications of food waste for industries at large. In Germany, the government already has a plan in place to halve food waste by 2030. Their project seeks to tackle food waste at every step of the supply chain, and you can help to bring everyone into a more sustainable supply chain as well. 

Support local food waste businesses like Roots Radicals, write to big supermarket chains who aren’t doing their part, and raise awareness any way you can. Hosting workshops, online or in-person, sharing your knowledge and experience about reducing food waste. For every person you encourage to reduce waste, you increase your own impact and the impact of those around you.

Of course, the Zero Waste Berlin Festival in June is also a great opportunity to discover more local businesses that are working hard to reduce food waste. So come join us for a learning experience like no other! 

Hear from Monica of Roots Radicals in more detail on this topic during our recent Instagram Live:


  • Rachael Davies

    Rachael Davies is a freelance writer and journalist based in Edinburgh, with work in National Geographic, Huffington Post, and TechRadar. You can find her on Twitter @rachdaviesetc or via her website.