“Part of the answer is that children are at home and not at school, where some of them have a lunch program. At home, they have to find some kind of sustenance, so the family needs more food.”
The festival of Passover, a celebration of the timeless tale of Jewish freedom from slavery, is also one of the most wasteful times of the year in Israel.

According to data published by food rescue organization Leket Israel and accounting firm BDO, 106,000 tons of food, worth approximately NIS 1.126 billion ($313 million), goes to waste during the month of the festival – about 14% higher than regular monthly waste.

The significant increase in waste is driven, Leket Israel states, by a combination of the large quantity of leavened products thrown away by supermarkets and consumers prior to Passover and the masses of Kosher-for-Passover foods – including matzah – that will not be sold or eaten after the holiday, and will also be thrown away.

While waste is increasing, Leket Israel – which rescues food for individuals at risk – has received a 35% increase in the requests from their network of 200 nonprofit partners prior to Passover.

“Demand grows before Passover and before the High Holy Days, such as Rosh Hashanah, but we are always asking what is behind this increase,” Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch told The Jerusalem Post.

“Part of the answer is that children are at home and not at school, where some of them have a lunch program. At home, they have to find some kind of sustenance, so the family needs more food. Others feel that they need more food during Passover to feel part of the festivities.”

In the past month, over 1,700 tons of fruits and vegetables were donated to Leket Israel from farmers, packing houses and surplus food crops, which were otherwise slated for destruction but given to Leket for distribution to Israel’s needy.

Following a special effort to assist those in need ahead of Passover, this month’s donations significantly exceeded the 1,200 tons monthly average collected by the organization.

“Everybody wants to throw out all their hametz [leavened products] before Passover, and we’re getting calls about that. We’re referring them to local agencies so they can donate what they can,” said Kroch.

The Passover figures follow the March publication of Leket Israel’s fourth annual report on food waste and rescue in Israel, with a focus on food loss in the household consumption sector.

Last year, Israelis threw away some 2.5 million tons of food, worth a total of NIS 19.7b. ($5.5b.) and constituting approximately 35% of all food production.

A staggering 1.2 million tons of food, almost half of the quantity discarded, was possible to rescue, the report revealed. While 18% of the value of food waste occurred during production, 82% of the waste occurred during distribution and consumption.

In the case of household consumption alone, 880,000 tons of food – valued at NIS 7b. ($2.2b.) – was wasted last year, with the average Israeli family disposing of food worth NIS 3,200 ($890), equivalent to a month and a half of annual household food expenditure.

In October 2018, Leket recorded a significant legislative victory when the Knesset passed the Food Donation Act, protecting food donors and food associations against potential criminal and civil claims based on damage caused by donated foodstuffs.

“Legislation of this kind is just one of the things that can be done to assist food rescue. If our initial target was 2.2 million meals for 2019, we now think we’ll be able to rescue at least 2.5 million meals. That’s a significant increase,” said Kroch.

“There’s also a lack of awareness regarding food rescue in Israel, and that’s something we’re also working on. If we can find a way for the government to incentivize the agriculture industry to donate surplus crops, we could probably double, triple or even quadruple what we’re doing now.