China wastes enough food to feed 100 million people

By Lester Wan contact

- Last updated on GMT

The total amount of food lost and wasted in China amounts to more than 35 million tonnes. ©GettyImages
The total amount of food lost and wasted in China amounts to more than 35 million tonnes. ©GettyImages
The total amount of food lost and wasted in China could feed more than 100 million people, according to a new report.

That amounts to more than 35 million tonnes — at least 6% of China’s food production, states the report by the Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme, Future Directions International (FDI).

According to Mervyn Piesse, the research manager, preventing or significantly reducing lost and wasted food would help to reduce undernourishment in China, bring financial benefits to businesses and consumers, and help to address environmental challenges.

From the harvest onwards, food spoilt or wasted at any stage of the supply chain before retail is termed food loss. Food thrown away at the retail or consumption stage is referred to as food waste.

Piesse says estimates suggest that, each year, China generates 17 to 18 million tonnes of food waste.

“Restaurants account for most food waste, with 19% of food waste attributed to these establishments,”​ he says.

It is hoped the mechanisation of agricultural processes, access to secure food storage facilities and improved transport logistics will help to reduce food loss at the different stages. To address the amount of food thrown away, Piesse says cultural attitudes need to change. He points out that the Han Chinese majority tends to waste more than the Uighurs in the West.

Putting in place waste management practices like the sorting of household waste will help to ensure food waste is effectively managed or put to good use. However, Piesse states that truly reducing food waste in retail and household settings will require further change or pressure from the law or the government.

Empty plates

Measures have already been taken, including in the central government’s policies such as the ending of lavish banquets by government officials and in the China Consumers’ Association getting restaurants to abolish minimum fees, which often results in the ordering of more food than could be finished just to avoid a service charge.

While these, and the grassroots Empty Your Plate campaign that ignited the process, have begun to change attitudes and brought about some changes, there is still much to be done.

In many Chinese cities, the infrastructure for waste sorting does not exist or is underdeveloped. Waste separation remains low. Beijing has 10 food waste treatment centres which are able to process food waste fertiliser but is building five more as it is still unable to process all the waste.

Currently, 135 million people in China are undernourished. Reducing food loss and waste is necessary to ensure China’s food security, as well as will bring about economic, social and environmental benefits.

Reducing water, land, labour and fertiliser that are wasted as a result of food loss and wastage would also help to reduce environmental pressures and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, Piesse states: “A recent study found that for every $1 that companies invested in the reduction of food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs.”

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