1 Million Tons
Food Rescue: An Integrated Economic, Environmental, and Social Contribution_aaa
The Food Recovery Hierarchy set forth in the European Union’s directive on food waste sets priorities for the treatment of unconsumed food. Each stage in this hierarchy focuses on a different strategy for managing food waste. Within the hierarchy, preventing food waste and using wasted food to feed underprivileged populations is clearly preferred, because these methods for managing food waste have the greatest environmental, economic, and social advantages, and therefore are the most efficient.
Many policy measures exist to address the needs of underprivileged populations and to help alleviate the problem of food insecurity. The most common methods used in Israel include donations, subsidies, allowances, and financial aid. Food rescue is unique in that it makes it possible to help those in need at a low budgetary and economic cost: instead of having to finance the full cost of buying food, only the cost of food rescue needs to be financed.
The Economic-Environmental Hierarchy of Food Recovery
In the socioeconomic discourse in Israel and around the world, there is an ongoing dispute between those who advocate prioritizing growth (“increasing the pie”) and those who believe the reduction of inequality should be prioritized as the main goal.
Food rescue is unique because it is a policy tool that inherently integrates both approaches. Rescuing food and distributing it to underprivileged populations increases economic productivity while simultaneously reducing inequality.
Furthermore, crises and emergency situations – such as Covid-19 and the climate crisis – underscore the possible scenarios for instability in the local and international food supply chains. Thus, food rescue is also a tool for expanding food reserves and ensuring food security in times of crisis.
The importance of rescuing food stems from three main benefits
The Economic Benefit
The Social Benefit
The Environmental Benefit
Food Rescue Benefits
However, the environmental impact of food waste is not only the result of excessive food production. It is also caused by food waste treatment, as most food waste is transferred to landfill. Landfills damage the soil and contribute to climate change due to methane emissions produced by the decomposition of organic waste. Moreover, approximately one-third of household waste consists of organic matter originating in food. Therefore, discarded food increases the volume of waste requiring treatment and affects the quality of other recyclable materials found in household waste. Food rescue maximizes the use of the resources already invested in producing food and prevents the need to use additional resources.
The combination of these three characteristics of food rescue calls for appropriate policies that reflect these benefits.
More than one million tons, which is about half of the total amount of wasted food, is rescuable. Rescuing it would prevent 3% of greenhouse gas emissions in Israel (53).
The majority of food rescue in Israel and abroad is carried out by nonprofit organizations (NPOs) that are supported by donations. However, even if funding for food rescue is derived from donations, the main foundation of food rescue activity is not primarily philanthropic or charitable, but an alternative economic method of food production that is clearly beneficial to the national economy, above and beyond its important contribution to reducing social inequality.
The direct cost of food rescue averages at NIS 1.5 for every kilogram of food. The direct value of rescued food is NIS 5.4 per kilogram, yielding a multiplying effect of 3.6. In other words, every NIS 1 invested by NPOs in food rescue provides income in the form of products worth NIS 3.6 for underprivileged people. Food rescue in Israel is still in its infancy and there seems to be potential for expanding the activity, utilizing economies of scale to reduce the cost of food rescue, and raising the value of rescued products. However, for reasons of conservatism, the assessments here are based on the current cost structure.
In terms of benefit to the national economy, it is also necessary to consider the positive environmental contributions of food rescue [see Chapter 9]. The environmental benefit of reducing greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions as well as waste treatment stands at NIS 0.8 per kilogram, yielding a multiplying effect of 4.3. In other words, when incorporating greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions as well as waste treatment [see Chapter 9], every NIS 1 invested in food rescue generates a value of NIS 4.3 for the national economy.
The volume of food waste in Israel is not unique and is similar to that in comparable developed economies around the world. However, unlike many other countries that have developed legislation, national policies, and multi-year targets to encourage food rescue and reduce food waste, in Israel there is still no national policy for dealing with this issue.