NIS 3.6 billion
Environmental Impact and Cost of Food Waste
The environmental cost of food waste in Israel in 2021 is estimated at approximately NIS 3.6 billion, out of which NIS 1.4 billion accounts for the unnecessary use of natural resources, NIS 1.4 billion due to greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, and NIS 800 million for the direct cost of waste collection and processing. Food waste (including packaging) in all stages other than agriculture, produced 1.9 million tons of municipal waste, which constitutes approximately 34% of all municipal waste in Israel.
Despite the negative environmental impacts of growing and producing food, agriculture is not perceived to be a polluting industry and environmental taxes and fees are generally not imposed upon it.
This is because the positive external impact of consuming food is greater than the negative external impact of producing it. Many developed countries even subsidize production and consumption either directly or indirectly.
However, when food is wasted, in other words, produced but not consumed, the full environmental impact remains, from growing, producing, and disposing of the food, as well as treating the resulting waste, without anyone deriving any positive benefit from its consumption. Considering this, food waste is especially damaging to the environment.
In recent years, the problem of food waste continues to gain recognition around the world. To support the global effort, the United Nations, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have been working on instituting a uniform international index for estimating the volume of global food waste. In addition, in 2019 the United Nations launched a report (37) emphasizing the importance of examining the environmental context of food waste, in addition to the socio-economic. According to the report, using the life cycle assessment (LCA) approach to food waste and treatment may assist in developing a policy for reducing food waste.
A policy to reduce food waste could include a variety of measures that would lead to a reduction in food surplus at the source, encourage the rescue of surplus food, and promote the use of composting and anaerobic digestion rather than disposing of waste in landfills. Numerous countries are using various policy tools to reduce food waste.
This report presents a study of the environmental impact of food waste and loss in Israel. This chapter examines the environmental impact of wasted food in the production, consumption, and disposal stages. Specifically, the greenhouse gases and air pollutants emitted because of this, the natural resources (water and land) that were lost as a result of this waste, and finally, the environmental impact resulting from the need to treat this waste. The external costs of greenhouse gases and air pollutant emissions were quantified according to the FAO’s methodology (38). The external environmental impact on land and water quality as well as damage to biodiversity were not considered in this examination.
Therefore, the estimated environmental cost of food waste in Israel presented in this chapter is an underestimation and provides a foundation for assessing this in the forthcoming years.
It is important to note that the environmental impact quantified and presented in this chapter include only those that occurred within the geographical boundaries of the State of Israel. Natural resources invested in growing food outside of Israel and the emissions from the growing and production process were not included in this report. A relatively large part of certain foods that are consumed in Israel, such as grains and meat products, are imported. Therefore, the environmental impact of food consumed and discarded in Israel is greater than the total environmental impact quantified in this chapter.
NIS 3.6 Billion - The Environmental Cost of Food Waste in Israel:
of GHG emissions in Israel result from food waste
The environmental impact of food production at all stages (production, processing, sales, consumption, and disposal) results from the use of energy and resources, and these vary according to the crop type. These costs are added to the economic and environmental cost of treating food and packaging waste.
Additional resources that were lost along with the food wasted in Israel in 2021 include 1,290 million kWh of electricity, a quantity sufficient to manufacture all the computers and electronic devices in Israel for one year; 77 thousand tons of fuel, which is enough to fuel 170 thousand cars for one year; 185 million cubic meters of freshwater – enough to fill 57 thousand Olympic swimming pools, as well as 215 million cubic meters of wastewater; and 1,000 square kilometers of agricultural land – 20 times the area of Tel Aviv. In addition, 200 thousand tons of waste (packaging, industrial waste, etc.) was created, 60 thousand tons of fertilizer was used, and livestock emitted 3,000 tons of ammonia over the course of the year.
Together, these contributed to 5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from food waste in Israel, constituting approximately 6% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the country. On the 25th of July 2021, (Gov. Decision No. 171) on the topic of transitioning to a low-carbon economy (39), the Israeli government set an updated national goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 27% by 2030 and by 85% by 2050, compared to greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. Moreover, in October 2021, the Prime Minister declared a goal of zeroing Israel’s carbon emissions by 2050 (40).
To achieve these goals, in that same decision the Israeli government also set sectorial targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make energy consumption more efficient. These included “reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by solid waste by at least 47% by 2030 compared to emissions measured in 2015,” “reduce greenhouse gas emissions from municipal waste by at least 92% by 2050 compared to emissions measured in 2015, which stood at 5.5 million tons a year,” and “a 71% reduction in the volume of landfilled municipal waste by 2030 compared to the amount of municipal waste landfilled in 2018, which stood at 4.5 million tons a year.” Reducing the amount of food waste in Israel would assist the national effort to meet the targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of municipal waste landfilled.
Water expended and lost as a result of food waste would fill:
57,000 Olympic swimming pools
In an arid country such as Israel, water is a valuable and limited resource. The 185 million cubic meters of freshwater lost as a result of food waste could fill 57 thousand Olympic swimming pools, or alternatively, raise the water level in the Sea of Galilee by over 1 meter, or provide enough water for about 3.6 million residents for an entire year (41). An examination of the water costs wasted along with the food reveals that the water loss cost the Israeli economy approximately NIS 640 million.
Land is another limited and valuable resource in Israel. The one million dunams (1000 square kilometers) of agricultural land used to grow food that became waste is valued at approximately NIS 800 million.
Environmental Costs of Food Waste, 2021, By Cost Driver, in NIS billions
Food waste constitutes approximately a third of the total household waste produced in Israel
The environmental impact of food waste stems not only from excess food production and consumption patterns that involve the waste of natural resources and air pollution, but also from the way food is treated once it is discarded. Treating food waste once it is discarded and in particular, transferring it to landfill causes additional environmental impact. It’s known that 34% of household waste in Israel consists of organic matter originating in food. Thus, food waste increases the total amount of waste that needs to be treated, and when unsorted, makes it difficult to recycle other materials found in household waste.
Most of the waste in Israel is landfilled, and this has many negative environmental impacts. Landfills require large areas of land and thereby contribute to the depletion of land resources in Israel. In addition, a variety of air pollutants and greenhouse gases are emitted when waste is transported to distant landfill sites around the country. Moreover, landfills can potentially contaminate adjacent land and water resources due to environmentally harmful substances seeping through layers of water and soil (42).
The amount of municipal waste produced in Israel each year is estimated at approximately 5.6 million tons (43). Food waste in Israel in 2021 was estimated at around 2.6 million tons, out of which 1.7 million tons (44) require end facility treatment (as part of the municipal waste that is treated in Israel). Added to this, 200 thousand tons of waste resulted from food packaging, leading to a total of 1.9 million tons of food and packaging waste, which constituted about a third of the waste in Israel requiring treatment. Treating this amount of waste required approximately 190 thousand compacting garbage trucks (45), which is the equivalent of 520 loaded trucks operating every day for an entire year.
The volume of waste requiring treatment necessitates the allocation of significant resources, including economic and statutory support for sorting and disposing. Waste treatment costs consist of several factors, including the costs associated with waste storage, collection, and removal, sorting and transit facilities, and transportation, as well as the cost of the treatment itself, depending on the type of treatment required, as well as landfill fees. The direct annual cost for treating food waste and associated packaging (46) in Israel stands at NIS 800 million (based on waste treatment cost estimates conducted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Waste Policy 2030). In addition, the external costs of greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions caused by treating the waste stand at NIS 500 million. The total economic cost for treating food waste in Israel in 2021 stands at approximately NIS 1.3 billion.
Environmental Costs of Israel’s Food Waste in 2020 By Stage of Food Loss, in NIS millions
of the environmental impact resulting from food loss is caused by consumer waste
The environmental impact related to agricultural produce is quantified by the product’s entire lifecycle, including production, post-harvest handling, storage, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal. The further along a product is in its lifecycle when it is wasted or discarded, the greater its environmental impact. This is because the environmental footprint of food waste stems from three different components: impact resulting from the stage of the value chain when the product is discarded; impact stemming from the product ending up as waste; and impact stemming from previous stages of the value chain (if there are any).
Food wasted at the consumption stage accounts for approximately 50% of the environmental cost of food waste. Consumer food waste includes all the cumulative environmental impact resulting from its production, transport, processing, and distribution prior to reaching the consumer. In 2021, food worth NIS 12 billion and weighing 1.2 million tons (including packaging) was discarded during the consumption stage (47). In addition to the cost of the food waste itself, the unnecessary cost of waste treatment should also be considered, which consumers paid indirectly through municipal fees totaling NIS 500.
Environmental Cost of Food Waste by Stage
Animal-based food products have the greatest negative environmental impact
Examination of the different food product categories reveals that animal-based food products have the greatest environmental impact. The environmental cost (because of air pollutants and GHG emissions) to the economy for meat, eggs, and fish wasted during the agricultural production stage is approximately NIS 5.2 per kilogram. If those foods are wasted in the consumption stage, the environmental cost is NIS 7.4 per kilogram. The environmental cost to the economy for milk and dairy products wasted during the agricultural production stage is approximately NIS 2.0 per kilogram. If dairy foods are wasted in the household consumption stage, the environmental cost is NIS 2.8 per kilogram. Fruit and vegetables left in the field have an environmental cost of NIS 0.90 per kilogram, and nearly double that if discarded by the consumer.
Examination of the different food product categories reveals that animal-based food products have the greatest environmental impact. For wasted meat, eggs, and fish, about half of the environmental cost stems from the loss of natural resources. For dairy products, most of the cost is due to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, while for fruit and vegetables, the cost is evenly distributed between the cost of waste treatment, the loss of natural resources, and greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.
Cumulative Environmental Cost per Kilogram of Wasted Food, Israel 2021
International comparison: GHG emissions caused by food waste
According to UN assessments, the amount of food wasted globally is approximately 1.7 billion tons per year. The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted as a result of growing and producing unconsumed food was estimated at approximately 4.3 billion tons. This amount includes greenhouse gas emissions from every stage of the food growing and production stages, as well as the emissions caused by food being discarded and treated as waste (48).
The global cost of greenhouse gas emissions from food waste is estimated at approximately $515 billion a year (49). This cost depends on local conditions and varies according to the specific type of agricultural product.
The comparative international research conducted by FAO, together with the new UN study, shows that the level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in low-income countries is not demonstrably different from those in higher-income countries. The UN report found that food waste per capita at the consumption stage is very similar in all countries. The conclusion contradicts the prevailing assumption that most of the food waste in developed countries occurs during the retail and consumption stages while the source of most food waste in developing countries occurs during the producing, packaging and transporting stages.
The findings of the UN report, as presented in the graph below, show that food waste per capita in Israel is similar to that in the United States, and lower than that in Africa. However, it is also clear that food waste per capita during the consumption stage is lower than in Europe.
In Israel, 5 million tons of greenhouse gases are emitted due to growing and producing unconsumed food, constituting approximately 6% of greenhouse gas emissions in the country each year. Overall, most food waste occurs during the consumption stage.