Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle project to provide information and raise awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students from different countries to understand how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the globe, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.
Today we're speaking with Liva Puka from Latvia
But first, let's add some context
Sustainable Targets: Latvia initiated a waste prevention programme in January 2021 that set sustainability targets for the years 2021-2028. The plan aims to prevent waste generation, including hazardous waste, and find efficient ways to reuse it, should it be produced, as a resource to ensure its circulation into the economy, as well as its disposal in a manner that is not harmful. Additionally, the plan covers all sectors, and the waste type prioritized includes food waste, furniture, household waste, and packaging among others. Latvia intends to apply this procedure on a yearly basis. 
Country's Performance: According to Eurostat, Latvia generated 318 kg of municipal solid waste (MSW) per capita in the year 2004, which in 2019 has increased to 439 kg. Although in the years during the past two decades the amount has varied. Between 2008 and 2013, for example, the MSW generally decreased following the financial crisis, but it has continued to increase thereafter. As a result, Latvia commenced its first waste prevention plan in 2013. Still, Latvia’s increased generated waste sits below the European average, which is at 489 kg per capita. 
Hello, Liva! Thank you for participating in the interview. Before we start, could you please briefly introduce yourself?
Hey, my name is Liva, I am 22 and I come from Latvia. Though for the past few years I've been here and there, living and studying in Germany and then in Estonia, most of my life I have spent in Latvia. Recently I moved to the Netherlands and am always excited to explore, learn and collect unique experiences. I am a big bird person, so on a nice weekend chances are that I am in the woods with my binoculars. Other than that I also love coffee, fashion and playing badminton. I recently graduated with a Bachelor in Liberal Arts.
Can you help give some background about the attitude towards food waste and sustainability in Latvia?
Food waste is an issue that is no less prevalent in Latvia as it is around the world. I saw a survey online conducted by a popular grocery store chain Rimi and it revealed that 74 percent of the people surveyed admitted to throwing food out, weekly. In a broader context, I think in the EU Latvia falls in the latter half of biggest food waste countries, though. Low income levels generate the mindset that every bit of food is of value and, therefore, not to be wasted. The Soviet past contributes to this - at the time the deficit of food, as well as other necessary items, made the possession of such things feel like a privilege. Especially if said food was not accessible or only accessible “through contacts”. Since then, food has gained consistency in people's lives, there is trust that there is enough food to go around in grocery stores, unlike in the previous century. Therefore, I think food also gets wasted a lot more nowadays, just as it is in a lot of other European countries.
Regarding sustainability in general, I have to say that the attitudes are only slowly progressing in otherwise a rather stagnant mentality. People tend to be skeptical towards products that are labeled as “ecological”, not understanding what it actually means. The container deposit legislation was only passed recently, way later than Latvia's neighboring countries Estonia and Lithuania that have had deposit systems for years. Sustainable living still seems hypothetical on a lot of levels.
However, a positive and educational recurring event that happens every year and that has become sort of a tradition for many Latvian people is participating in “Big Cleanup”. Taking place every April, the event calls for everyone to clean up and pick up trash around the areas they live in. For me personally, since the Cleanup was introduced when I was a child, it was the first time I actually understood that we must take charge of the environment around us.
In your opinion, what challenges does Latvia face concerning the country’s sustainable development targets?
Farmers in Latvia are not obligated to indicate where their waste is discarded and that creates a general ignorance among a great share of the population - they don't understand waste management. Based on these statistics, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development has estimated that implementing a compost system would have no profit, therefore would turn out to be costly for everyone and even environmentally unfriendly. And so the ministry does not push more mindful waste management on farmers. On top of that, waste sorting machines are expensive and a large portion of all bio-waste in Latvia is deemed to be non-compostable because of its poor quality.
I think this pretty much reflects the situation with many sustainability goals in Latvia. Lack of funding, lack of profit is always halting sustainable development and making it almost impossible to implement new systems. I believe organizations struggle with this too, the goals are clear-cut, yet the financial support from the state is often too scarce to fuel the project on.
What can we learn from Latvians? Could you tell us about their values, habits, or recipes that we could adapt and learn from to reduce food waste?
Latvians pride themselves on their domestic gardens. Even if they don't own a house, people living in cities opt for purchasing or renting out a garden space in communal garden lots, or even create a micro garden on their windowsills or on balconies. In Latvia there is a common belief that self-grown produce is that much more valuable and delicious. Even if the harvest is small, incorporating it into a dish both saves money and gives people a sense of accomplishment. I find it really endearing. Each vegetable that grows in such a way gets used up.
Also, Latvians are big on conserving food. From veg to fruits, from jams and to soups, almost every Latvian grandma's basement is filled to the brim with jarred goods from the year before. Since often a veggie garden gives more than one is able to eat right away, conserving food is a way to avoid produce from going to waste. The stocked food is also an almost instinctual survival practice, since winters in Latvia can get quite harsh. Then in winter, when the garden lays under a blanket of snow and money becomes tight, you crack up a jar of, say, conserved tomatoes!
Do you know of any significant organizations that are tackling food waste? Who’s doing good work to tackle this problem? Who should we support and get involved with?
Eat Responsibly is a project that operates in 9 European countries, including Latvia. Their website in Latvian offers information on how food waste is generated - from the agricultural processes to household waste patterns. Their goal is to expand education on sustainability and food waste to school children and to train teachers to bring awareness to such global-scale issues. They also offer a blog with informative articles about sustainability challenges.
Other sustainability organizations turn the topic of food waste here and there, while being more focused on other environmental harm reducing goals.
Based on what we talked about reducing food waste, what’s the most frustrating thing to you about food waste?
What frustrates me is that food waste often goes under the radar when we talk about sustainability. When sustainability is brought up, people's minds go to plastic consumption, or maybe greenhouse gas emissions. While these are issues still to be tackled, and are no less serious, I think that there already is some awareness going around, which the issue of food waste is lacking. I feel like the majority of people have no real idea of just how vast food waste is, and that it begins before groceries are put on shelves in the store. It's because of this absence of deeper awareness that activities such as dumpster diving, food waste collection from cafes, restaurants, grocery stores are still largely seen in a negative light, considered filthy and unsanitary, maybe even immoral. When in fact, so much of what is thrown away is still useful. And that goes for not only just food.
Due to your perspective about reducing food waste worldwide, what do you recommend people do differently?
The sustainability goals that we look at seem large. Out of reach. Seemingly stretching beyond individual action. I would recommend stepping away from such a mindset. Reducing food waste starts from small steps. And I am not just talking about an individual taking on a completely zero waste lifestyle. I'm talking about small acts that grow into habits, and that are simple enough to catch on to other people. As a consumer in a grocery store or a market, that is where our responsibility starts. Then at home, when we store and prep our produce, that is where our responsibility continues. It's rather simple. Food waste is not only large figures that have nothing to do with where and how we live. I think we need to realize that every day we have to stay in the mindset that our individual contribution makes a difference too.
Thank you so much for your time and participation!
That was a conversation with Liva Puka from our Content Writing team at Sapient.
Interviewed: Liva Puka
Interviewer and Writer: Rima Qayed
Read our other blogs:
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Download and use food waste apps
Download the international “Too good to go”
Overview of national waste prevention programmes in Europe, Available at: https://tinyurl.com/45vcm2r6