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Food Waste Around the World, Episode 28: South Africa

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 Caitlin from South Africa!

"...South Africans contribute to 31 million tonnes of waste per year - enough to fill half a million Olympic-sized swimming pools."


Hi! Welcome and thank you for participating in this interview series Food Waste Around The World. Could you tell a bit about yourself and where you are from?

Hello! I’m Caitlin, I am 22 years old, and I live in Cape Town, South Africa. When I was younger, I lived in Botswana for 6 years. I'm currently in the final year of my degree at Vega School, studying a Bachelor of Commerce in Strategic Brand Management. I've always been interested in brands, thus working in the social media department at Sapient is ideal.

Very nice! What is the food waste situation in South Africa, is it a big issue?

I recently read an article that was published by the World Wildlife Fund which stated that South Africans contribute to 31 million tonnes of waste per year - enough to fill half a million Olympic-sized swimming pools. This is insane considering South Africa is not necessarily one of the biggest countries in the world, scary! I feel like the problem lies with our government, as they aren’t able to properly allocate resources to ensure a reduction in waste. Other than the government, individuals could start to work on the issue and the situation in the country.

That's a scary number, but it’s not the only one. You said that you grew up in Botswana, is the situation different there?

The situation is not as bad in Botswana because, compared to South Africa, you can see a lot of waste, and not necessarily only food waste, but also trash and litter on the streets. This is mainly in the more rural, poorer areas. In Botswana, they have a waste policy where every shop is allocated recycling bins for specific material waste. Extra food from restaurants and shops is also taken to the shelters for homeless people, therefore reducing the amount of food that goes to waste.

I see. Are there any organizations, NGOs or small communities in South Africa working on this issue?

Recently, in South Africa, there was a workshop between all the big retailers and farmers which addressed issues like food waste, overall waste, and lack of sustainability. It was suggested that all businesses incorporate food waste and waste management into their business plan or their strategic business model to ensure that waste is reduced in the country. They further addressed the issue of packaging and making sure that food has the correct packaging so that doesn't go off as quickly. This really makes a difference. There are quite a few non-profit organizations or NGOs in South Africa. They go to restaurants to pick up food and ingredients that are nearing their expiration date and distribute them among poorer communities and households.

Could you mention any of them?

‘Food Forward Sa’ is a non-profit that aims to bring food surplus to starving communities in South Africa. Food Forward was established in 2009. They connect a world of excess to a world of need by recovering quality, edible, surplus food from the consumer goods supply chain and distributing it to community organisations that serve the poor. They are truly incredible.

Nice! What about the government, is it doing anything to tackle this issue?

Unfortunately, our government is known around the world for being one of the most corrupt governments. It's hard for them to manage funds coming in and to allocate the resources to address a problem without any form of corruption. Despite this, they stated that their agenda is to have a 50% reduction of the amount of food waste by 2030, which is very hard to believe, to be honest.

I see. What about the habits within households?

Since the beginning of COVID-19, people started to buy and hoard a lot of food, especially non-perishable tins and cans, maize meal, flour and much more. Even before the pandemic, people shopped quite often during the week and they bought a lot of fresh products, even though most of it might have ended up being wasted because, at the same time, South Africans do eat out a lot. I guess the problem lies in the habits of people. There are quite a few farmers’ markets on the weekend, and eco-conscious communities who are aware of this issue - so it is being addressed by individuals.

I see, some are people more aware than others. What do you think could be the next step for resolving this issue?

Firstly, the government could implement a law limiting the amount of food each family buys according to the number of people in your family. They could also develop a service or a fee that prevents people from overbuying and then throwing food away. Moreover, reducing plastic packaging is a must, especially for fruit and vegetables. We use a lot of plastic in South Africa, and we do need to stop using it, but for now, it is the cheapest form of packaging.

Lastly, I believe that education is fundamental, especially in junior school, to ensure children start developing good habits in regards to waste and sustainability.

I totally agree! This was very interesting Caitlin, thank you.

Thank you for having me!


Interviewer: Andrea Di Bernardo

Interviewed: Caitlin Truter

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