New report finds wasted food is responsible for 6 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases emissions, and causes nearly $1 billion worth of environmental damage every year

A garbage sorting plant in Tel Aviv, January 27, 2013.
A garbage sorting plant in Tel Aviv, January 27, 2013.Credit: Nir Kafri

Zafrir Rinat 09.11.2020

Food that is allowed to go to waste is responsible for 6 percent of Israel’s greenhouse gas emissions, and also accounts for 3.2 billion shekels ($950 million) worth of annual environmental damage, according to the annual report on food waste published on Monday by the food rescue organization Leket Israel and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The new report covers developments in 2019 and for the first time includes an estimate of the cost of the environmental damage caused by food waste and food loss. The amount of food that was thrown away in 2019 was similar to the amount the year before – about 2.5 metric tons, around a third of the food produced in the country. Among the causes of food loss were improper storage and consumer purchase of excessive amounts of food.

More than half of the environmental damage is caused by food discarded at the manufacturing stage. The environmental impact is greatest at this stage, because the study factors in the amount of land and water it takes to grow the food that is not even made available for consumption.

According to the report, food loss at the retail and distribution stage is similar to other developed countries, an encouraging sign given the warm climate. It is an indication that Israel’s management of its food supply is relatively efficient, the authors say.

End of day at the Mahaneh Yehuda market, Jerusalem, March 2020.
End of day at the Mahaneh Yehuda market, Jerusalem, March 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The report includes a number of recommendations on how to curb food loss, including charging a fee for refuse generated by businesses. Such a fee would encourage businesses to donate excess food rather than throwing it away. The report recommends reconsideration of expiration dates for some foods as well as providing government support for enterprises that work to reduce food waste. It also notes that the efficient separation of garbage would make it possible to reuse some of it for agricultural fertilizer.

The report, which was compiled by the BDO consulting firm, pegs the cost of air pollution and 5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the process at about 1 billion shekels.

Food loss accounts for an estimated 1.9 million tons of garbage a year, or about a third of all urban trash generated in the country. The annual price tag in dealing with this garbage and its effects was estimated at 800 million shekels.

Some estimates peg the environmental costs higher because the calculation does not include the impact of imported food and the damage caused to biological diversity by pesticides and cultivation of the land. Food that was produced and not consumed accounted for the waste of 180 million cubic meters of water last year, as well as 190 million cubic meters of waste water.

A study published earlier this month in the journal Science indicates that the amount of greenhouse gas produced from food production and distribution may result in the global community missing the targets set by the Paris climate accord.

According to the researchers, it will not be possible to attain the goal of preventing the Earth’s warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century without substantially cutting greenhouse gases created by the production and marketing of food. Currently it accounts for 30 percent of all of the world’s production of greenhouse gases.

Discarded food lies in a street in Tel Aviv, 2018.
Discarded food lies in a street in Tel Aviv, 2018.Credit: Alex Levac

Among the recommendations that the researchers make to curb it are encouraging plant-based nutrition, improving cultivation methods and cutting food loss by 50 percent. Cutting food loss, they say, could be accomplished in part through better storage and refrigeration.

“Reducing food waste is still not a target for the State of Israel, as part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement,” said Dr. Hagit Ulanovsky, one of the founders of the Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition and an expert on health and the environment. “This report proves that we need to add the goal of reducing food waste to the Israeli commitments and of course, it would also be better to aim to reduce consumption of animal-based food.”

The reduction of food waste must be done quickly in Israel, a country with a severe shortage of agricultural land and clean water and where open spaces and biological diversity are disappearing, she warned.