Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle’s project aimed at providing information and raising awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students coming from different countries with the aim of understanding 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 world creating a unique multicultural environment.
Today we speak with Leone from Liguria, Italy!
“[...] most supermarket chains and direct food chains have specific plans to bring this food to particular locations where it can be used. For example, they work with home shelters quite a lot and have many dining halls catering to poor people. “
Hi Leone! What do you know about the situation regarding food waste in Italy? Is it a big problem there?
I believe, in some places, this issue is worse than in others. In Italy, there is a big problem with food waste as it has one of the most developed economies. We have a surplus of food, but also of general waste. However, there are many compulsory programmes related to the redistribution of food surplus in most of the supermarkets and food chains. So from what I know, most supermarket chains and direct food chains have specific plans to bring this food to particular locations where it can be used. For example, they work with home shelters quite a lot and have many dining halls catering to poor people. These entities do not pay for the food, so make good meals that would have otherwise been dumped by the supermarkets. There is also frozen food that simply melts, and gets wasted. For example, ice cream left outside of the freezer for too long cannot be sold as it cannot be re-frozen as it wouldn’t be an entirely new product. Since it cannot be redeployed or eaten directly, sellers give it for free to those who cannot afford to eat. In this way, supermarkets try to show that they do not make waste and do something to contribute to society. However, in my opinion, they are not trying to make an actual social impact but simply improve their image. There is a complete circle where food is not wasted as leftovers are not treated well in Italy. It is essential not to waste food but we still do it a lot.
But in general, in a family context, it is always crucial not to waste products. Many Italian recipes, if you think about it, are about redeploying food that you already have in your house. If you make pasta with tomato sauce or ragu, then you can also reuse it and make frittata di pasta (fried pasta with eggs), for example; and you can eat it for two or three days. Some of these concepts are entirely embedded in our lifestyle. So, we already have options for food redeployment.
Okay, interesting. And if you compare Italy and the Netherlands, do you think there are differences regarding food waste?
I think so. I would not necessarily be confident about what these differences are. I do not know if it regards food waste specifically, but to some extent, probably yes. In terms of more waste in general, at least from what I have seen living in two of the major cities of the Netherlands, recycling is not a thing in this country. I know that many cities have specific buildings where they burn most of the rubbish to create energy, such as heating. Nonetheless, it still gets burned and released into the air. On the other side, in Italy, recycling is becoming a central theme. Although individuals do not necessarily implement it, the government does. It obliges everybody to recycle and install many systems to ensure that people do not cheat and follow what is asked. There are different solutions. For example, in my hometown, you have a specific card that is made for you to throw away rubbish. So, they know every time you do it, which bin is used, how much waste you threw, and how many times. Then they can charge you.
I read just recently that in my hometown, waste processing expenses were reduced by 20% for all taxpayers. It is because recycling is at a high level, like 60 to 70% of all wastes produced. It is recycled and not wasted, which is very important. I think there is less food waste in Italy than in the Netherlands. Also, overall, there is less waste that cannot be redeployed for specific uses.
Are there any companies or organisations that raise awareness in public, maybe some NGOs in Italy? Or is it the government to draw attention to this problem?
As I said, it is not so much of a big thing. Usually, food waste issues are related to helping the poor when there is food that otherwise cannot be sold. It would probably be donated to charities and similar institutions. There is even a law. In general, there is solid regulation on the use of food, at least in Italy, compared to most of the world. Usually, they use this food for donations, animal consumption, or composting.
Do you know any names of specific initiatives that deal with food waste?
As I said, there was a law that was passed about three or four years ago, about trying to redistribute as much food as possible. In Italy, I don’t think there are too many companies that work on it. The government is more interested in other things, such as health issues. There is a food chain that challenges companies to redeploy products that are going bad. For instance, salt, even if they say it’s gone bad, you know that it’s actually still edible. For example, Himalayan salt that is around 3 million years old, will not get spoiled in two weeks, or one month, or one year.
And from your perspective, do you think it could be done better? What steps can be taken next to improve the situation?
Well, as I said, I do not think that you can do much better than Italy. There are laws that oblige you to reduce food waste by giving it to charity. It is very similar to the UN Development Goals, which are stopping hunger by reducing the waste of food and redeploying it for animals or individuals who cannot afford to buy meals. Usually, it is not necessarily about the institution. It’s more about the government passing a specific law, and about the governmental focus on the issue or not. But most of the time, the government focuses on something else. I'm sure that there are possibilities to improve. Nevertheless, I believe Italy is doing better than many other countries, in my opinion.
Thank you. It is interesting to know. When I worked in Italy, I was talking about this food waste programme in high school because I was a teacher assistant. I was supposed to talk about environmental topics, including food waste. So, many students did not know about the problem and impact. Also, I noticed that people throw away a lot of food. For instance, they cook a significant amount of pasta for lunch. For example, they do not finish it and throw it away without making something else.
You talk about the family, yeah, there is more waste. If you talk about institutions, I think it is relatively low. For example, my friend was born in a small town, about 20,000 people. In the supermarkets there, they were also donating food. I believe that is a pretty common thing to do. Although I cannot talk for any chain and everything, at the family level, pasta is probably one of the cheapest things we can make. So we do not care about throwing some more. It is also because, in Italy, it is very appropriate to leave cooked food and reheat it and or cook from frozen. If people eat fresh food; they might buy fewer groceries. They could maybe buy more specifically what they would need. Sometimes pasta is wasted because they make too much of it. In our culture, there should always be too much pasta, to the point where you can’t finish the bowl. Of course, frozen food is eaten sometimes, but we tend to eat more fresh food.
Thank you for the interview!
Interviewer: Anastasia Arkhipova
Interviewed: Giovanni Leone Parmigiani