1.1 Million Tons

Rescuable food in Israel during 2021
The combination of increased food waste, the climate crisis, the high proportion of Israeli households living with food insecurity, and resultant health and economic costs, all indicate that food rescue needs to become a key national policy tool.

Rescuing Food: Economic, Social, Health, and Environmental Benefits

The combination of increased food waste, the climate crisis, the high proportion of Israeli households living with food insecurity, and resultant health and economic costs, all indicate that food rescue needs to become a key national policy tool.
The phenomenon of food waste is not unique to Israel. This problem exists worldwide, and to a similar extent in all Western economies. According to UN estimates, in terms of quantity, over a third of all food produced is wasted, or about a quarter of it, in terms of caloric value.

The Economic-Environmental Hierarchy of Food Recovery

Source: EPA

The European Union’s Waste Framework Directive established a hierarchy of priorities for handling unconsumed food. Each level in the hierarchy highlights a different management strategy for reducing food waste. The clear priority is on preventing food waste and using rescued food to feed disadvantaged populations. These strategies have the greatest environmental, economic, and social benefits, and therefore most effectively address the problem.

There are many policy tools to help disadvantaged populations and address food insecurity. In Israel, the most common policy measures are donations, subsidies, stipends, and relief assistance. Food rescue is unique in that it assists people in need, at a low cost, as it is only necessary to finance the cost of rescuing the food, rather than the full cost of purchasing it.

There is a socio-economic debate, in Israel and around the world, between an approach whose central goal is encouraging growth (“growing the pie”) verses reducing inequality. Rescuing food waste intrinsically combines these approaches. Distributing rescued food to disadvantaged populations increases economic output while reducing inequality.

Additionally, food rescue policies can increase food reserves and promote food security in times of crisis and emergencies that disrupt local and global food supplies, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.

There are four main benefits of rescuing food

1. Economic

Food waste decreases economic productivity, since investments and labor inputs are lost. Wasted food with no value or a negative value is given positive economic value when rescued and distributed for consumption by disadvantaged populations who benefit from its full nutritional value. Food rescue increases economic output and productivity, since its cost is lower than the cost of investing, producing, and transporting additional food products.

2. Social

The costs of food waste along the entire value chain, from growing and producing food, through marketing, distribution, and consumption, are ultimately paid by consumers. This affects the cost of living in Israel. Food rescue can reduce social disparities, lower the cost of living, and lessen food insecurity among disadvantaged sectors of the population.

3. Health

Food security is not measured only in caloric terms, but also relates to the nutritional value and quality of the food. Being able to afford healthy food that provides adequate and essential nutrition for physical, emotional, and cognitive functioning is a necessary aspect of realizing food security. On a personal level, food insecurity is a risk factor for chronic physical and mental illness, lower academic achievements, and diminished earning capacity. On a national level, it leads to economic distress, increased healthcare expenses, and lower productivity. Rescuing healthy food, particularly fruit and vegetables, and distributing it to people in need, may lower the proportion of the population that lives with food insecurity and thus improve their health. This can reduce unnecessary healthcare costs borne by the Israeli economy.

4. Environmental

About 37% of Israel’s local agricultural products become waste or surplus. All the resources used during the processes of growing, producing, distribution, and marketing – land, water, fertilizers, chemicals, and fuel – are also lost. Agriculture and industries that produce food for human and animal consumption utilize many non-renewable resources, which cause pollution and negatively impact the quality of water, soil, air, and biodiversity around the world. In addition to the environmental impacts of producing unconsumed food, the wasted food must be disposed of. In Israel, the majority of waste is buried in landfills. Decomposing organic waste in landfills emits methane, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change, and causes soil pollution. About a third of household waste is organic food waste. Rescuing food maximizes utilization of the resources already invested in producing it, and reduces the need to use additional natural resources and other inputs.
The combination of these four benefits is distinctive to food rescue activities. There is a need to formulate appropriate policy tools to advance them in the field.

Comparing Food Production and Food Rescue

*Most of the resources have already been invested during the agricultural and production stages therefore any additional investment in food rescue is negligible.

About half of the total wasted food in Israel is rescuable, representing more than 1.1 million tons. Rescuing it could prevent about 3% of the greenhouse gas emissions in Israel and reduce healthcare costs to the Israeli economy by NIS 5.2b ($1.47b). Most food rescue activities, in Israel and around the world, are carried out by nonprofit social organizations supported by donations. Nevertheless, the main basis for food rescue is not to give charity, but to offer an alternative to producing food, which has direct economic benefits and reduces economic inequalities.

The direct cost of rescuing food is, on average, about NIS 1.6 ($0.45) per kg. The direct value of the saved food is about NIS 5.7 ($1.61) per kg, representing a value multiplier of 3.6. That is, every shekel invested by the food rescue organizations generates NIS 3.6 ($1) worth of food products for the populations receiving the donations. Food rescue in Israel is still in its infancy, and there is great potential for increasing its scope. Taking advantage of economies of scale could reduce the cost of food rescue operations and increase the value of the rescued produce. However, to be conservative, the estimates presented here are based on the current cost structure.

In terms of national economic benefits, the impact on the environment and healthcare must also be considered. Every kilogram of rescued food is estimated to represent a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and waste treatment valued at NIS 1.1 ($0.3) (see Chapter 10), such that every shekel invested in food rescue yields a value of NIS 4.3 ($1.2) to the national economy. Every kilogram of rescued food is estimated to reduce healthcare costs by about NIS 12.5 ($3.54) (see Chapter 8) such that every shekel invested in food rescue yields a value of NIS 11.8 ($3.34)

The scope of food waste in Israel is similar to that of developed countries around the world. In recent years, the Israeli government has taken the first steps in promoting initiatives to reduce food waste (see Chapter 12). However, while many other countries have formulated legislation, national plans, and multi-year goals to encourage food rescue and reduce waste, Israel does not yet have a national policy on this issue.

Estimating the Profitability of Rescuing Food: Cost/Benefit per kg of Food

* Market price of an alternative product with the same nutritional value.
Source: BDO estimates