Heads of industry, civil society, researchers and students convene to identify new solutions to food waste
Switzerland is a country known for its impressive adherence to high environmental standards. With pristine lakes and mountains, high water quality, and rigorous biodiversity and natural resource management, Switzerland is lauded as a country in which quality of life and environmental sustainability go hand-in-hand. That is why the issue of food waste is one of growing concern to many Swiss people.
Despite its impressive environmental credentials, Switzerland is a country in which 300kg of food is wasted per person each year, amounting to a staggering one third of all food being lost or wasted in Switzerland annually.
In response to this mounting problem, students from the Business School of Lausanne (BSL) recently met with representatives from the food industry, business sector, civil society, and research and academic community to find solutions to help reduce food waste in Switzerland by 50 per cent, by 2020.
The meeting titled, Reducing Consumer Food Waste in Switzerland, was held at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and was designed to generate innovative solutions to trans-disciplinary problems such as food waste.
The opening session established a common understanding of the food waste issue. A video entitled Food Wastage Footprint, produced by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) introduced the subject, which was then discussed in more detail by experts in the field. Included among the main speakers were Marcus Hurschler, Director of foodwaste.ch; Violaine Berger, Director of Ecosystems and Agriculture at the World Business Council of Sustainable Development; Catherine Martinson, Head of Regional Work, WWF Switzerland; and Alain Najar, Senior Lecturer Food and Beverage Management, Ecole Hotelière Lausanne. Together with BSL students and other stakeholders, they identified seven core areas to be targeted for innovation in food waste.
From these areas, several inventive ideas were proposed, including a smart phone application that would alert the public to the availability of unsold meals in restaurants at reduced prices, which would otherwise be thrown away.
Savour the flavour of a three-hour culinary journey. Toil to table! is an idea that was proposed by a group of stakeholders wishing to develop a course to teach children of all ages what goes into the preparation of a meal.
Another innovation pitched by the portioning and packaging group, would enable consumers to purchase only the quantity of food they need, thus reducing their potential waste from over-purchasing standard sizes that may be too large. The solution involves refillable packages and using smart-phone applications for scanning and managing the product information.
Another technology themed idea presented involves a Facebook challenge, whereby a person can challenge their friends to not waste any food for one week, at home or in restaurants. Non-compliance with this challenge will result in a ‘fun’ penalty, to be negotiated at the time of the challenge. The idea is to multiply this on Facebook.
The event led to some important insights into the challenges of reducing food waste in Switzerland. Not least among these, it was revealed, are the system blockages that encourage the destruction of the environment in food production and food waste, whereby food is lost or wasted all along the value chain, both upstream and downstream. Some participants also pointed out that 60 per cent of household food is wasted due to bad planning, with busy lifestyles making planning difficult.
Fortunately a variety of solutions were proposed to tackle these problems, and it was agreed that collaborative action all along the value chain is key. Changing shopping habits from weekly and wasteful ‘big’ shops to buying small amounts locally was suggested as one important means of curbing food waste. Also, communicating to consumers the economic savings of reducing food waste can, it was said, be an effective way of encouraging a change in attitudes towards the wasting of food.
The event concluded with participants highlighting the next steps to be taken to develop the ideas presented. Dr. Katrin Muff, Dean of BSL, closed the event by emphasising her commitment to the issue of food waste. She pledged that BSL would organise a follow-up event within the next six months.