Report: Food Waste in the Maltese Retail Sector

Friends of the Earth Malta recently commissioned a study on food waste in Malta by a group of Masters students from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. This report analysed current food waste practices and provides recommendation and strategies to reduce and re-purpose food waste discarded by the retail sector.

Food waste in Malta is an important issue which receives little public attention from society at large. Malta has one of the highest per capita waste generation rates in the EU, but recycling rates are low. Most food waste ends up in landfills which are quickly filling up, pressuring the already scarce Maltese surface area. In addition, there are environmental, economic, and social justice concerns with high levels of food waste generation and poor management. The report focused on retail food waste as this stream is poorly understood and needs to be studied further. Much of retail food waste is currently landfilled while it is still fit for donation to food banks or re-use in a biodigester.

Key findings include that combating food waste faces a multitude of barriers, determined by several key factors such as political engagement and culture but also the practices of stakeholders including suppliers, food banks, waste collection and processing and waste quantification. Interactions between these factors and stakeholders shape barriers to successfully combating food waste.

The absence of strong legislation regarding retail food waste is a crucial barrier for reducing food waste in the retail sector, partially complicated by ineffective use of policy instruments. However, a new waste management plan is currently being developed which is likely to include retail food waste in its scope. Food banks also suffer from the lack of regulatory policy, as a legal obligation to donate food could increase regular food donations from supermarkets. Legislative measures negatively affecting other parties flow down to affect food banks as well. Waste managers are also affected by a lack of robust legislation. As a lack of standardised separation practices is not mandated in Malta. This lack of standardisation affects the functioning of waste managers as food is not separated from general waste. The unseparated waste usually ends up in landfills rather than partially in composters.

Recommendations to combat retailer food waste in Malta include a multitude of goals. These include pushing for legislation related to food donation and waste separation by retailers. These two aspects have been recognised as being central to reducing and re-purposing waste in the retail sector in Malta. These goals could be attained starting with raising awareness and establishing relationships with allies in the policy sector. When awareness is high, food waste can be put on the policy agenda, allowing FoEM and allies to work on a policy proposal. Simultaneously, best practices for retailers can be incentivised and food donation can be stimulated. After which pilot projects involving supermarkets donating foods to food banks can be initiated, establishing relationships with foodbanks. Foodbanks can aid with the earlier mentioned policy proposal, and cooperation between food banks and super-markets can be fostered. All of these steps build a political support base which could result in robust legislation addressing many of the Maltese food waste issue’s facets, benefiting Maltese society at large.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

The students also produced a short video of their experience.

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