Integrating Economic, Environmental, and Social Contributions
The Economic-Environmental Hierarchy of Food Recovery
Many policy measures exist to address the needs of underprivileged populations, and to help alleviate the problem of food insecurity. The most commonly used methods in Israel include donations, subsidies, allocations and allowances. The uniqueness of food rescue stems from its ability to help those in need at a low budgetary and economic cost. Instead of financing the full cost of food purchases, it is only necessary to finance the cost of its rescue.
In socioeconomic discourse, there is a prevalent disagreement, both in Israel and abroad, between proponents of prioritizing growth (“increasing the pie”) and proponents of prioritizing reduction of inequality.
Food rescue is unique because it is a policy tool that inherently integrates both approaches. Rescuing food and transferring it to underprivileged populations for their consumption increases economic productivity while simultaneously reduces inequality.
The importance of rescuing food stems from three central advantages:
1. Economic Benefit
Food waste is detrimental to economic productivity because of the production and labor inputs that are irretrievably lost. Food rescue transfers food that would otherwise be lost to underprivileged populations for their consumption, thereby converting waste with zero or negative value into a product of economic value, without the need to invest additional production inputs. Rescued food retains its full nutritional value, but the cost of rescue is lower than the cost of production and transportation, meaning that food rescue contributes to increasing production and productivity in the economy.
2. Social Benefit
The cost of food waste, along the entire value chain from food cultivation and production through distribution, marketing and consumption, are ultimately passed onto the consumer, and affect the cost of living in Israel. Therefore, the rescue and provision of surplus food contributes to closing gaps in society and lowering the cost of living. Moreover, food rescue helps reduce food insecurity in the underprivileged populace.
3. Environmental Benefit
During the cultivation, production, distribution and marketing processes, about 35% of local, Israeli food production, by volume, is lost and becomes waste or surplus. When that happens, all of the resources required to cultivate and produce it are irreversibly lost. This includes land, water, fertilizers, chemicals and energy. Some food production also requires animal feed, and thus involves the resources needed to cultivate and produce the feed. Many of the resources used by the food industry are non-renewable, and their utilization has an impact on global water, soil, air, and biodiversity. Furthermore, agriculture causes air pollution, as a result of energy and fuel consumption.
Therefore, discarded food increases the total amount of waste requiring treatment and also affects the quality of other recyclable materials found in household waste. Food rescue maximizes the utilization of resources already invested in food production, and thereby prevents the need to use additional environmental and other resources.
The combination of these three characteristics of food rescue creates a unique opportunity that requires the formation of an appropriate policy to reflect such benefits.
Nearly 50% of wasted food, equivalent to 1.2 million tons, is rescuable and its rescue could reduce GHG emissions in Israel by 3% (37).
Food Rescue Benefits
In terms of benefit to the national economy, it is also necessary to consider the positive environmental contributions of food rescue [see Chapter 3]. The environmental benefit of reducing GHG and air pollutant emissions, and waste treatment, are worth approximately NIS 0.8 per kilogram, yielding a multiplier effect of 4.2. Incorporating the costs for GHG and air pollutant emissions, and waste treatment [see Chapter 3] in the calculation increases the multiplier so that every NIS 1.0 invested in food rescue generates NIS 4.2 for the national economy.
The volume of food waste in Israel is not unique, and is similar to the amounts in comparable developed economies. However, unlike many other countries that have developed legislation, national policies and multi-year targets to encourage food rescue and decrease food waste, Israel still lacks a national policy regarding these issues.
Despite this, some initial steps have been taken in Israel in recent years, in terms of both regulation and incentives [for additional information on government initiatives, see Chapter 12].