According to BiobiN, a large percentage of the country struggles with food security.

However, taking a closer look at the food supply chain provides a better understanding of the source of food waste per commodity, which also presents opportunities to reduce wastage and create circularity within the food production system — something that is needed.

BiobiN is taking a closer look at the food loss and waste stream in South Africa.

"While food waste remains a major environmental and social issue in South Africa, we have seen various instruments put in place to encourage the food producers and retail sector to reduce food loss and waste," says Brian Küsel of BiobiN South Africa.

"The Voluntary Food Loss and Waste Agreement has resulted in many companies reducing food loss and redistributing their food surplus. However, there will still be the non-edible waste stream that needs to be managed and ultimately diverted from landfills," adds Küsel.

"For us to understand the food waste stream, we need to look at each stage of the supply chain and what food commodity is wasted the most," Küsel says. 

BiobiN says the estimated 10.2 million tonnes per year can be broken down into:

  • 2.7 million tonnes during agricultural production
  • 2.4 million tonnes during post-harvest handling and storage
  • 2.6 million tonnes during processing and packaging
  • 2 million tonnes during distribution, and
  • 0.5 million tonnes at the consumer stage. 

Having a look at each food commodity, fruits and vegetables top the list with 66% of production going to waste. It is most pronounced during the processing and packaging (25%) and distribution (17%) stages of the supply chain, according to BiobiN. 

Within the seafood category, 37% goes to waste, with 15% going to waste during the distribution phase. Within meat products, 30% goes to waste per year with the majority occurring at the production phase (15%).

Not only does food waste present a major social challenge, but the amount of resources used within food production also needs to be considered, says BiobiN.

When food is wasted these resources are wasted. About 1.7 km3 of water is extracted from ground and surface water bodies to produce food that is subsequently wasted in South Africa. This is around one-fifth of South Africa's total water withdrawals and represents approximately 600 000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The cost of this is estimated to be R260-million. 

BiobiN adds that South Africa's agricultural sector uses about 60% of the country's available water supply, therefore, managing food waste is a critical step towards water supply management, which is especially important in a drought-prone region like South Africa.

"The significant volumes of food loss and waste for specific commodities along the supply chain require more attention. Food distribution programmes play a massive role in preventing food loss," says Küsel.

"Diverting food waste from landfills through alternative waste treatment systems, like in-vessel composting units, are currently the most efficient and feasible solution to create a circularity on-site. More food production companies are opting for large-scale composting systems to manage and process their food waste," Küsel concludes.

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*Image courtesy of Canva