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Environmental Damage from Wasted Food in Israel Valued at $945M: report

Half of the 5.5 billion pounds discarded is rescuable and fit for human consumption

The environmental cost of food waste in Israel in 2019 amounted to NIS 3.2 billion ($945 million), according to the fifth annual National Food Waste and Rescue Report released on Tuesday.

Leket Israel, the country’s national food bank, with the backing of the Environmental Protection Ministry, for the first time factored in the financial impact to the environment of food waste in addition to the economic damage, which was NIS 20.3 billion ($6 billion).

“When we waste food, not only do we waste all the economic cost to produce the food, we also waste the natural resources and environmental impact that are associated with it,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at accounting and consulting firm BDO Israel, which prepared the report, told The Media Line.

Chen Herzog, chief economist, BDO. (Courtesy)

BDO’s modeling shows that NIS 1.4 billion ($410 million) of the environmental costs from food waste comes from wasted natural resources, and NIS 1 billion ($295 million) is from greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, with the rest from unnecessary waste treatment at 800 million shekels ($236 million).

Israelis throw away approximately 35% of all the food produced in the country, according to the report. Fifty percent of the 2.5 million tons (5.5 billion pounds) of food wasted is rescuable and safe for human consumption.

Setting up a government policy to deal with food waste is essential and it has to happen fairly quickly, even in this time of the COVID-19 crisis

Gidi Kroch, Leket CEO, told The Media Line that the cooperation with the government ministry lends credibility to the report, which has increased value for policymakers because it is the first report to go beyond food value analysis and quantify the environmental impact.

Gidi Kroch, Leket CEO. (Tomasz Solinski)

“Setting up a government policy to deal with food waste is essential and it has to happen fairly quickly, even in this time of the COVID-19 crisis,” Kroch said.

Policy recommendations, Kroch pointed out, include examining existing regulations to provide incentives for rescuing food rather than discarding it and looking at expiration dates to see if they are essential for protecting health.

The report estimates that food waste last year contributed 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which is the equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 1.6 million cars per year, or about half the vehicles in Israel.

That number is important because Israel signed on to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change with a national target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 8.8 tons carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per capita by 2025 and 7.7 tons CO2 equivalent per capita by 2030.

“This is the first stepping stone for the government but it also should be more than that,” Kroch said of the report. “It should be a way to look at food waste as part of the solution for food security and also environment protection in Israel.”

The report includes a section on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security in Israel. Although the data is from 2019, before the outbreak began, BDO predicts that the pandemic will cause an additional 145,000 Israelis to become food insecure and exacerbate food insecurity for the 1.87 million people who were already experiencing it before the crisis began.

Said Herzog: “We believe that from an economic, social and environmental point of view, a policy for rescuing food and redistributing it to disadvantaged sectors of the population is an effective economic plan in Israel, where a large part of household expenditure is on food.”

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