Craig Reucassel: Warrior against Australia’s War on Waste

Craig Reucassel first etched his way into our memory through the various stunts he and the Chaser team performed over the years. Through his familiar use of humour and satire, he’s once again captured the hearts and minds of Australian’s, this time challenging us to join him in the fight against the War on Waste.

Food waste is a hot topic right now. While the issue itself is not new and has been campaigned for many years, Craig has done an impressive job shining the light on this significant economic and environmental problem, gathering the troops to rally for change.

It’s a grim picture when you look at what’s been reported on food waste. Australia is one of the most wasteful countries in the developed world. We throw out approximately one in five shopping bags, which equates to 3.1 million tonnes of food. Additionally, 2.2 million tonnes is disposed of by the commercial and industrial sector, costing the economy approximately $20 billion each year.

The issue is not just the amount of food thrown to landfill, but also the enormous amount of resources, including water, energy and fuel, that are utilised in the process of growing and distributing the food that we ultimately waste. As Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, affirms in in his TED talk “at the moment we are trashing our land to grow food that no one eats. ”

As the ‘War on Waste’ show highlighted, food waste is complex. Fresh produce is discarded before it even hits the market shelves; it’s thrown out in both shops and homes because of best-before and use-by dates; it goes off in our fridge before we have the chance to use it; or the excess ends up in our bins.

One of the significant issues surrounding food waste is the large proportion of a crop that doesn’t even make it to market. As Craig reported in the first episode of the show, up to 40 per cent of a banana crop could be rejected due to their unacceptable shape and size. The reason for this is complicated. Retailers believe that the regulations they have in place for the size specifications of fruit and vegetables, accurately represent what the consumer wants.   Many consumers, on the other hand, refute this and say that size doesn’t matter.

Is it really the consumer’s who don’t want ‘wonky’ or ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables, or is it that retailers have led us to believe this? Or could it be both? Craig emphasises “over the years supermarkets have developed more and more perfect fruit, and consumers have been trained to expect that.” So how do we change our expectations of what fruit and vegetables are meant to look like?

Craig believes there is a way. One option may be for supermarkets to start selling more imperfect fruit and vegetables alongside consumer education regarding food waste, and then we could start to see a change. A positive example of progress in the United Kingdom that Craig spoke of was that some supermarkets have started buying the whole crop to use.   It then becomes the responsibility of the supermarket to use the seconds in other value-added products they sell in-store.

Thinking of innovative ways to conquer this issue is paramount. As the most recent episode demonstrated, some banana farmers in North Queensland have identified new markets for their seconds, thus they are utilising a much larger percentage of their crop, which is promising to see. YWaste is an app that’s been developed for food retailers to sell their products at a discounted rate that would usually have been thrown out at the end of the day. City Councils in Adelaide provide an additional bin as part of their kerbside system that allows residents to throw out organic materials. Through diverting food waste from landfill and turning it into compost, this significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. A wide range of foods can be composted, essentially ‘if it grows, it goes’. The food scraps then undergo a composting process and are incorporated into garden soils and mulches supplied by Jeffries, thus greatly improving the quality of soils in South Australia.

It’s evident the show has had a tremendous impact on raising awareness and changing consumer behaviour. Nevertheless, the resounding success of the show is likely attributed to its multi-level approach. Craig engaged everyone in the conversation. MPs, supermarkets, farmers, food rescue organisations, businesses, schools, communities and individuals were all called upon for action. The individual success stories abounded. When questioned on where the big wins are likely to be with regards to food waste, Craig was adamant that the most effective change needs to happen at a policy level.

He states:

How do you set up the system to get the best results to influence change for people who don’t give a shit?”

Australia has recently released a National Food Waste Strategy with an ambitious target of halving food waste by 2030. Four policy areas are central to the strategy – policy support, business improvements, market development and behaviour change. $1.37 million has been allocated in funding in the first 24 months to establish an independent body to coordinate strategy implementation, a voluntary commitment program and a baseline of national food waste to ensure progress can be monitored and reported. This is a positive step in the right direction. May we continue to see the ongoing investment that’s required to tackle this significant issue in our food system.

In the War on Waste Craig validated that your voice does matter. Through the power of social media and political pressure, he showed us that as individuals we can pressure retailers and MPs to change. The ban the bag campaign has had some huge wins because we, the individual, spoke up. So continue to speak up. Let the supermarkets know #sizedoesntmatter. You can do this on social media or in person. Ask your local council what they are doing about a green waste bin. The show may have ended but let’s keep the conversation going and advocate for necessary change at a local, regional and national level. Our warrior may have led the charge, but we must continue the fight.

 

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