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 Haasje, from Belgium!
“Consumers should be better informed about where food is going, what food waste means for our planet and what they can do to prevent it.”
Hi Haasje, welcome to the interview! To start, can you tell me where are you from and a little bit about yourself?
Hi, I'm Haasje from the Netherlands, but I’ve spent most of my life in Brussels, which is why I'm talking about Belgium today. I studied psychology, and then event management as a master's degree where I became really interested in sustainability within festivals and other events. Eventually, that's what I do for a job but until then, I found this internship.
Interesting! And what is the food waste situation in Belgium? Is it a big issue?
Yes, I think food waste in Belgium is a pretty big issue. Belgium's total food loss is between 2 and 3 million tons per year and since Belgium is such a small country, it is quite a lot. I read an article from 2018 that said Belgium is one of the countries in Europe with the most food waste, which is really sad. The Belgian government has urged for the number of food waste to go down by 15% in 2020 and by 30% in 2025 but the real change is actually quite small.
Could you notice any differences in what you see in Belgium compared to the Netherlands about food waste?
I think the situation is quite similar in the Netherlands and Belgium because they are next to each other. It looks like the food distribution management system, projects and initiatives are quite similar but there is still a big problem with food waste in both countries. I think that the Netherlands is better at monitoring and mapping consumers in households and obtaining numbers and statistics. In fact, the Netherlands did a survey where they gave tips to Dutch households about wasting less food like making more food lists or storing food in the right place so it stays fresh longer and there are fewer leftovers. But this hasn’t been done in Belgium yet which they should.
Who is really driving the attention or raising awareness on the food waste issue? Is it the government or are they NGO’s and small communities?
I think it's both. The government conducts facts, figures, surveys, and reports and also supports initiatives. I believe that much more can be done by the government to raise awareness so I don’t think the government is doing a great job so far. There are also small initiatives that support companies and restaurants in the cultural sector and other voluntary projects within communities that prevent food waste by providing food leftovers to charities or people in need. That's why I think it's both.
Are you aware of any specific initiatives to address food waste?
There is one that is well known - "Too Good To Go” - which works quite well here, which is nice to see. It is widely used in supermarkets, restaurants, and cafes. Every night you can get leftover pizza for a cheap price! In addition, another one is "No Food To Waste", an initiative used by restaurant owners. In this one, chefs can learn to cook in a way that does not waste food. There’s also an initiative in the cultural sector for events and festivals called "Green Events" where they monitor food waste and support food waste prevention.
Do you think that the government will do more in the future? Do you think that food waste is a priority on their agenda?
I hope that all the climate negotiations that the EU has to tackle about the climate crisis will change the priorities of governments in every country in Europe; countries are being put in the spotlight a lot more now. Governments know that there are many issues that they must care about but it seems like there is a lot of talk and not so much action when it comes to recycling, plastic pollution, and food waste. For example, the Belgian government is talking about action but has not updated any reports since 2018. So there needs to be a lot more monitoring going on and a priority for it. However, the Belgian government has internal problems so I don't think they will prioritize food waste for now.
In the Belgian government, there is the Flemish side and the French side so politics are also different from each other. Everything that one side decides does not happen for the whole country. In my opinion, the Belgian Flemish side does a lot better than the French side on monitoring but they just need to go to come together.
At last, What do you think could be the possible next steps to be taken by the different organisations? Do you think it needs to come from the community following a bottom-up approach or top-down from the government?
More monitoring and fines should be applied to supermarkets and restaurants and if too much food is wasted. So I think a top-down government approach is most efficient for large corporations. I think when there are no rules, people don't listen, and they don't prioritize our planet. When it comes to consumers, I think both top-down and bottom-up approaches work. Consumers should be better informed about where food is going, what food waste means for our planet and what they can do to prevent it. In fact, people have a mentality that if you can't see the problem, it's not there. In addition, initiatives have been launched to promote education for food waste. Consumers would understand the differences between data on food, food safety and food waste prevention that could be implemented within communities with support from government initiatives. Also, I just think that everyone must work together because I've seen that a lot of people don't think about food waste because it seems normal in their minds that food gets wasted. Therefore, the mentality needs to change through monitoring and education.
Perfect. Okay, that would be it. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much I really enjoyed it.
Interviewer: Ilaha Aliyeva
Interviewed: Haasje Wientjes
Editor and writer: Ilaha Aliyeva