The Social Impacts of Food Waste in Australia
Food waste is a pressing global issue that carries far-reaching consequences for the environment and economies. With estimates of as much as one-third of the food produced for human consumption being wasted, it’s no surprise that this also equates to a significant wastage of water, energy and labour. Less known, however, are the social impacts that food waste imposes, which are just as prolific. Such profound quantities of food waste contribute to hunger and food insecurity and exacerbate societal divides, even in a ‘first world’ country like Australia.
So Who Is Most At Risk And Why?
In Australia, a staggering 7.6 million tonnes of food is wasted each year, with up to 92% still going directly into landfills. At the same time, data revealed in The Foodbank Hunger Report 2022 revealed that two million Australian households ran out of food at some point in the preceding 12 months as a result of financial hardship. Therefore, low-income households, single-parent households and older people are at greater risk of suffering from food insecurity due to inadequate financial resources.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, it is estimated that between 4% and 13% of people suffering from food insecurity in Australia are made up of the general population. A further 22% to 32% of Indigenous Australians suffer from food security. This highlights that geographical location is also a major contributing factor to food insecurity. Due to a lack of resources and access to affordable and nutritious food, this places Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or those experiencing homelessness at greater risk of suffering from food insecurity.
Hunger and Food Insecurity
Hunger poses serious long and short-term health and wellbeing issues. For adults, hunger can lead to nutrient deficiencies, kidney disease, mental health issues and other chronic conditions. Additionally, it can seriously affect the quality of life for elderly people.
For children, the health issues associated with malnutrition are even more serious. A growing child with inadequate access to food is at risk of suffering developmentally. Furthermore, it can impact their education, social wellbeing and emotional development. Sadly, of the two million households estimated to have suffered from food insecurity between 2021-2022, 1.3 million children were affected.
Food waste creates social exclusion as individuals facing food scarcity may withdraw from social interactions due to feelings of shame or inadequacy. Moreover, the lack of access to fresh and nutritious food can lead to health challenges, diminishing overall well-being and limiting engagement in community activities. By avoiding accessing assistance such as soup kitchens, community gardens and food banks, the predicament of an individual suffering from food insecurity is likely to worsen, excluding them further still from their community.
Food waste exacerbates the paradoxical situation where abundance coexists with hunger. As wealthy people have a greater proportion of disposable income, they are more likely to purchase more food than they require. This unnecessary purchasing can contribute to price inflation, making affordable food even more difficult to access for poorer populations. At the same time, the food discarded by middle to upper class populations could have nourished those in need, but instead it goes to waste. This perpetuates the cycle and creates an even greater divide within society.
What Can Be Done
Successfully addressing food waste and its social impacts in Australia will require a widespread and multifaceted approach. Already, the Australian Government has made a commitment to halving the Nation’s food waste by 2030 through community education programs, research investment, support packages for food rescue organisations, data collection and trials. These initiatives aim to provide food to those in need, increase awareness about how to avoid generating unnecessary food waste and find sustainable solutions for disposing of the food waste that is unavoidable.
As a nation, we must collectively take responsibility for addressing this crisis. At enrich360®, we’re passionate about helping all Aussies make simple, yet impactful changes in their everyday life. Our range of food waste dehydration machines offer a practical and effective solution to tackle the social, environmental, and economic repercussions of food waste. By redirecting unavoidable food waste away from landfills and transforming it into a nutrient-rich, organic fertiliser, we turn an environmental liability into an asset. At the same time, we become more conscious of our purchasing habits and form practices of only buying what we need, helping to make food more accessible to all and break down social divides.