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 Coby from Israel!
"So apparently, there's 18 billion Shekels worth of food wasted yearly in Israel. "
Hello Coby, thanks for participating in ‘food waste around the world’. To start with, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and where are you from?
Yes, my name is Coby Babani. I'm part of Sapient Social Environmental Enterprises. I'm very passionate about different topics such as digital democracy, food waste, and sustainable energy. At Sapient, we have several projects covering these topics. I really like working with people that work as a team and have the same goals. In this way, we can move forward together in creating more sustainable solutions for different challenges that our society is facing.
I was born originally in Tel Aviv, 41 and something years ago. I lived in South Africa between the age of 2 and 5 because of my parents' work. And then, since when I went back to Israel, I always had the desire to leave the country. Finally, almost 20 years later, I moved to the Netherlands where I studied economics and then business. Then, I started working in an NGO first, and I did some of my own things later. Eventually, I started all these projects and found all these amazing people like you to work with.
Wow, what an interesting story! And going back to your country of origin, Israel, do you know what is the food waste situation there? Is it a big issue?
So apparently, there's 18 billion Shekels worth of food wasted yearly in Israel. Converting, one Euro is about somewhere between four and four and a half shekels. So if we divide it roughly to four, it's about 5 billion Euros worth of food that's wasted every year. And in tonnes, (1 tonne is 1000 kilos) there's 2.5 million tonnes of food being wasted in Israel every year. So the situation is quite grim. Israel is a westernized country like Europe and the United States so likewise the amount of waste generated is quite high. It's a very Americanized country, so people like big things and everything is found in very big packages, there's a lot of consumption culture and throwing away food is not such a big deal. There's a lot of restaurants and cafes and so on, and especially in Tel Aviv, people are going out a lot and the more people order food outside, the more food gets wasted as well. So it seems like the problem is big, but it also seems like there are some people trying to do something about it in the last few years.
Okay, so you think that mainly the problem is at the consumption level, or are you also aware about problems at the production level?
We have a lot of agriculture and farming. We do have a lot of cows to produce meat and eggs. There's a lot of meat that has to be produced in Israel for it to be Kosher for the Jewish people, for the people are religious. It's not the biggest part of the population but it is a part of the population. There's also a lot of Arabs and they need Halal. So maybe that also keeps a lot of the meat production within Israel. We do have probably imported meat but I think most of it comes from Israel. Also, we're very good in milk, cheese and egg production. Beside that, Israel is very famous for the Jaffa oranges which are exported worldwide.
We are also experts in irrigation systems, in particular, this way of dripping very small drops in your crop and saving water that existed for like 40 years and it's sold all over the world. And because we develop that system, it's very easy for us to create good agriculture as well for crops that usually do not grow in Israel like bananas and avocados. The country presents various climates, from the mountains to the desert. And because of that, we grow everything, dates, cucumbers, tomatoes and so on. The problem is that to arrive at the supermarket shelves, the food has to comply with several standards. Of course, some markets deal with a bit more substandard food so some it gets sold. But there is in the end, a lot of production that gets lost and remains in the field. Another problem is the value of food, which is easy to get and it's cheap, so people throw it away like everywhere in the West. So I would imagine that in Israel, the percentage of food that gets wasted at the consumer level is the highest like also in Europe and other Western countries.
Right, and could you notice any differences between Israel and the Netherlands where you lived already for a while now?
So probably many things have changed in the last 20 years, but something that I’m pretty sure that didn’t change much is that in Israel we go to the supermarket by car and we have big fridges so we buy a lot of stuff that often ends up at the back of the fridge and is forgotten. Here in Holland people mainly have small fridges and go to the supermarket by bike. But generally, the approach is very similar. The food is cheap, it's easy to replace it. It's very accessible. So it's not valuable enough and it's very easy to throw away.
Yes, sadly. I know that you have been missing from Israel for a long time, but who do you think is really driving the attention or raising the awareness about food waste issues there? It is something done more from the government side or is it more like NGOs or communities that are taking action?
So from the research that I did for this interview, I discovered that the work is done mostly by organizations of food waste fighters, like here in Amsterdam. They try to create pressure, they want the government to take responsibility but the government is very slow to follow up, it is busy with many other issues as the Israeli Palestinian situation, economics and so on. The people that are currently there on the top, they probably don't care enough about social issues. So it's very similar to here.
There's one NGO called Leket Israel. They work mostly with gleaning and with poor families. Gleaning is a practice described in the Jewish Bible for which food producers have to leave 10% of their food on their field and let poor people come and collect it. Currently, this happens anyway because of supermarket standards, so part of the production is always left in the field because it is not compliant. This organization (Leket) goes with volunteers in the field, they gather all the food and they distribute it to poor people. In addition, they claim that the government is not doing enough and they're trying to create pressure and raise awareness on the topic.
Another interesting initiative is undertaken by an organization that created a tent that you put in your backyard and that produces biogas out of your food waste. It is based on the principle of anaerobic digestion where microorganisms in anaerobic conditions (without O2) ferment food waste producing Methane as a byproduct. This Methane is taken directly to your kitchen and can then be used as cooking gas so you can have your kitchen off-grid.
Yeah, that's a super cool solution! So you said that the main drivers of actions against food waste are the organizations but do you think it's gonna become a priority eventually in the government's agenda or you see this topic still far from becoming a priority?
It seems like some people in Israel, from what I understood, would like the government to have a bit of a more social approach, which is less focusing on money more focusing on society and the environment. If these people arrive at the top then yes, also food waste is going to become a priority. In general, the political situation is not very stable, indeed in the last two years, there were like three elections because nobody could create a government.
Besides politics, innovation could be another big driver. Israel is a startup nation. The whole country is like one big Silicon Valley, everybody's working on solutions. And some people work on solutions for sustainability. So I would imagine that more and more solutions will come out from Israel, because in the end, waste is useful, and it's possible to create income from this food instead of wasting it.
Okay. And at last, what do you think would be the most needed action to tackle the food waste issue? What is the most urgent next step to be taken and from who, the ‘top’ or the ‘bottom’?
I think that governmental action is the easiest way to influence and change stuff, especially acting on the education system. Then, NGOs and organizations need to put more pressure, they need to bring more solutions from outside instead of also maybe not only creating their own but just copycatting solutions from Europe. Overall, I don't think there's one solution that will work, everything needs to happen together. The innovation sector has to come up with solutions that make fighting food waste economically beneficial. At the same time, kids at school should be educated about the value of food and also adults, finding the right way of communicating such messages. In addition, the government should disincentive companies in producing food waste or incentive them in using food surplus through proper legislation. So yes, maybe the government should actually take the first step setting the conditions for change and then be followed by all the other actions.
Yeah, it makes sense. Okay. That would be it, thank you very much!
Thank you for having me!
Interviewer: Ludovica Viva
Interviewed: Coby Babani
Editor and writer: Ludovica Viva
Organizations mentioned in the interview:
Other interesting links about food waste in Israel:
New Israeli app “SpareEat’- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAQySeAcG7A
Love food not waste - http://lovefoodnotwaste.co.il/en/
Study about food waste in Israel - https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Study-One-fifth-of-annual-Israeli-food-waste-occurs-during-High-Holy-Days-602484
Soup Kitchen Nation - https://themedialine.org/life-lines/soup-kitchen-nation-relieving-poverty-in-israel-by-reducing-food-waste/