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Property editor of the NZ Herald

Should NZ follow Italy's food waste lead?

New Zealand's biggest supermarket chain will not follow Italian food waste minimisation moves because it already cuts waste and donates unused food, it says.

Mike Sammons, Foodstuffs (NZ) sustainability manager, said Pak'nSaves and New Worlds were already extremely proactive when it came to not throwing out or redistributing food.

Italy passes law encouraging supermarkets to give unsold food to needy

Asked if radical new Italian food moves were needed here, Sammons was adamant: "We don't believe it is necessary based on the fact current practice in the New Zealand supermarket industry already means the majority of food is donated to charities or recycled. It is possibly more of a challenge for the hospitality industry where it is more difficult to separate different food types and therefore more potential wastage occurs," Sammons said.

The Italian government has overwhelmingly backed a new set of laws aimed at cutting down the vast amounts of food wasted in the country each year.

A bill passed by 181 senators will encourage families to use 'doggy bags' to take home unfinished food after eating out and removes hurdles for farmers and supermarkets seeking to donate food to charity.

Lauraine Jacobs, a food writer, said New Zealand was not doing enough to reduce food waste, with only a few exceptions and she too is concerned about restaurant food waste.

"Legislation is going to the be only way it will happen here. New Zealand has just woken up to this now," she said.

"Consumers are confused by sell-by, use-by and best-before dates. For example, cheese is often going to be better after the best-before date, which is the opposite of what we're being told.

"The New Zealand Food Writers' Guild has been very much aware about food waste over the last three years. This has always been on the programme and in Wellington last year, we donated a whole morning to it and then enjoyed a meal cook by a chef using waste products," Jacobs said.

She wanted to know exactly how much food was being thrown out in New Zealand annually and said when she visited a restaurant recently, she was told no 'doggy bag' was allowed.

Sammons of Foodstuffs said: "Stores on our waste programme aim to divert 100 per cent of food waste to food donation, stock feed and reprocessing. This represents less than 0.75 per cent of the total amount of product a store sells. The amount of product dumped by stores is negligible."

Stores throw out less rubbish and by May, 90 stores were on a new waste minimisation plan.

"On average, stores have improved recycling rates from a respectable 65 per cent to an impressive 80 per cent-plus, with some stores hitting their 24 month target of 90 per cent already. Pak'nSave Kilbirnie is an example of best practice with landfill waste reduced by a staggering 75 per cent since starting the programme.

The drive is an incredibly important way for the food banks to source much needed food products and raise funds to support those in need throughout the year.

"Stores on the programme are now diverting 24,000 tonnes of waste away from landfill to other uses every year. Of that 24,000 tonnes, 8000 is food related waste, which includes fat, bone, used oil, produce trimmings, items that go for animal stock feed and compost as well as edible items that go to food rescue organisations," Sammons said.

"Keeping food waste to a minimum is a focus for every one of our stores. An efficiently run store attempts to utilise all unsold food wherever possible. But the reality is food waste does still occur and when it does, stores team up with local charities such as Kiwi Harvest and Kaibosh Food Rescue to donate the food to those in our community who need it most. On average a Pak'nSave or New World supermarket will donate the equivalent of 2500 meals a month via local charities."

Sammons in New Zealand said that every year Foodstuffs picks a charity to donate leftover food from its National Foodstuffs Expo Event.

"This year, Kiwi Harvest was the organisation that we partnered with to distribute the leftover products to multiple charities across the Auckland region," he said.

"Our South Island New World stores support the annual appeal for the Christchurch City Mission and local South Island food banks. Our stores act as drop off locations for customer donations for the various food banks.

There have been times over the last year that if we had not had the generous support of Foodstuffs donation that we would not have been able to help the 1,706 adults and 1,896 children that have come to MSS in need of food and support.

"The drive is an incredibly important way for the food banks to source much needed food products and raise funds to support those in need throughout the year and one which are stores are happy to support. In addition, stores support their local food banks by donating shelf stable products throughout the year," Sammons said.

John Mullins, Foodstuffs South Island supply chain general manager, said distribution centres at Hornby and Dunedin each week donated a range of products that are edible but unable to be sold due to packaging damage.

"The key charities supported by our South Island distribution centres are St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and the Christchurch City Mission. These donations equate to approximately $100,000 of product per year," Mullins said.

Over the last 12 months, Foodstuffs North Island organised the donation of about $200,000 worth of product to the Salvation Army, Methodist Social Services Palmerston North, South Auckland Christian Food Bank and the Encounter Hope Food Bag.

Stacey Rohloff, food bank Coordinator at Methodist Social Services in Palmerston North said: "There have been times over the last year that if we had not had the generous support of Foodstuffs donation that we would not have been able to help the 1,706 adults and 1,896 children that have come to MSS in need of food and support."

James Walker, corporate affairs general manager at New Zealand's second-biggest supermarket chain, Countdown, said that business had "one of the most comprehensive food rescue programmes in New Zealand, which we are enhancing all the time. Our policy is to donate food that is still fit for consumption to our community charity partners through the Countdown food rescue programme.

Since 2006, we have reduced waste to landfill by 43 per cent, despite having 37 per cent more selling space.

"Nationally our Countdown stores partner with the Salvation Army for non-perishable foods and we also work with local food charities including Kaibosh in Wellington, Fair Food and KiwiHarvest in Auckland, Good Neighbour in Tauranga, FoodShare in Dunedin, 0800 Hungry in Christchurch, and Just Zilch in Palmerston North to provide perishable foods such as bakery items and vegetables," Walker said.

Between June 2014 and June 2015, Countdown donated more than $3.5 million of rescued food to food charities, he said.

"We also have partnerships with local farmers for food that's not suitable for human consumption, so as little as possible hits the waste stream. In the same period, we donated over $1.2 million worth of food to farmers.

"Since 2006, we have reduced waste to landfill by 43 per cent, despite having 37 per cent more selling space -- for example from new and extended stores -- than we did in 2006. The Food Rescue programme is an integral part of this achievement," Walker said.

Other Countdown programmes are:

• In partnership with the Salvation Army, Countdown has developed the Foodbank Project, New Zealand's first online food bank. The food donated by donors is delivered by Countdown to the Salvation Army for free through the online shopping network, and any profit generated from the donations is returned to the Salvation Army to run the project. Since it launched in December 2015, the Foodbank project has seen more than $77,000 worth of product donated.

• Free Fruit for Kids in all 184 stores: "We estimate we are giving away up to 50,000 pieces of fruit per week," Walker said.

• Community investment programme to support national charities like the Salvation Army, Alzheimers NZ, and children's' hospitals. "Since it first began in 2007, the Countdown Kids Hospital Appeal has raised $9.3 million," Walker said.

Denise Roche, the Green Party's waste spokesperson, said Countdown had improved.

"I support their efforts to reduce their waste to landfill and emissions and they are much better than they have been previously. For any retailer -- or restaurant for that matter -- it's not in their financial interest to waste food and they are doing well on their diversion rates. I do worry though about their reliance on what are essentially not-for-profit organisations in the food-rescue area who rely on volunteers to redistribute the food and sporadic funding," she said.

"We have no clear idea how much food waste there is in total in New Zealand per year from the commercial sector. But also when they're diverting it to not for profit organisations, they're actually reducing their costs because the dump fees are lower."

Roche said more incentives were needed to encourage stores to recycle more food and disincentives were needed, for example the waste levy.

COUNTDOWN NZ WASTE TURNAROUND

Waste to landfill:
• 2006/07: 20,993 tonnes
• 2014/15: 11,900 tonnes

Recycling:
• 2006/07: 19,390 tonnes
• 2014/15: 27,012 tonnes

Source: Countdown Corporate Responsibility Report to June 28, 2015

- NZ Herald

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