In the current financial crisis, food waste in Italy “is becoming politically unstable,” according to the country’s environment attaché.
Roberta Di Lecce, of the Italian Permanent Representation to the EU, spoke during a panel discussion on sustainability at the 20th anniversary of Europen (the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment), which was also attended by representatives from Unilever, Coca-Cola Hellenic, and the European Commission.
“We cannot let this happen, purely and simply,” said Di Lecce, who called on the multinationals present at the sustainability conference to advise government bodies about averting a disaster.
“I’m here to sound you out,” she said. “We believe that this is a domain where we could work hand-in-hand with stakeholders, with industry.”
1.3bn tonnes thrown away
Di Lecce said the delegates present represented big businesses, who could share their knowledge with Italy’s smaller firms.
“I represent a country where the bulk of the economy is made up by small and medium-sized enterprises.
“Is there any way we can help them improve their performance, maybe drawing on your best practices? Or are there any suggestions or programs?” she asked.
Di Lecce said the Italian Permanent Representation , which speaks for Italy at the EU headquarters in Brussels, considered “reducing food waste as one of the possible priorities during our semester.”
A report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in September 2013 said 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted per year, causing major economic losses and harm to natural resources. This accounts for one-third of all food produced globally.
Europe and the US are the worst offenders in food waste per capita. Reports by Eurostat and Segrè-Falasconi in 2010 and 2011 estimated total food waste in Italy at 6.6m tons annually.
Industry experts share knowledge
Unilver’s director of sustainability Louis Lindenberg and Coca-Cola Hellenic’s director of resource recovery Sabine Strnad weighed in to the debate, and were joined by Pieter De Pous from the NGO European Environmental Bureau, and Julius Langendorff, from the Directorate-General of the Environment at the European Commission.
The general consensus from the panel was that environmental efforts could be profitable for large food firms, and co-operation between political bodies and industry was in everyone’s interests.
Louis Lindenberg, representing Unilever, said reducing waste made economic sense and “for big businesses, waste production or sustainability is another word for value-innovation programs”. Companies need to “decouple” growth from environmental impact, he said.
However, the solution to environmental concerns was not simply reducing packaging, claimed Lindenberg.
“For years and years, companies have been reducing packaging all the time, and we’ve got to the point where we’re using optimum packaging,” he said. “There’s only a certain amount of packaging you can reduce.”
A dedicated team at Unilever was “working on the long-term material” for changing packaging, said the company's packaging director of sustainability, who spoke of spoke of the need for “open innovation”, and a willingness to “engage people and to get them to come forward with ideas”.
Data on resource efficiency is vital, he said, “as myself and some of my colleagues are starting to use that data to determine the programs we’re driving.”
The need for better, standardized data across EU member states was stressed by the panel and by the European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, in his video address to the conference which advocated making data more comparable across countries.
Lindenberg echoed this, saying “reporting need to become more harmonized”, with consistent definitions.