Melburnians waste enough food to feed extra 2 million people

The average Melburnian generates about 207 kilograms of food waste a year. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
The average Melburnian generates about 207 kilograms of food waste a year. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

Melburnians waste enough food to feed an extra 2 million people.

And feeding the average Melburnian generates about 207 kilograms of food waste a year – meaning close to 1 million tonnes of edible food ends up rotting.

If that wasn't alarming enough, food waste costs an average household more than $2200 a year.

The figures, produced as part of the Foodprint Melbourne project, were the first to quantify the city's food waste, Melbourne University researcher Seona​ Candy said.

With Melbourne's population surging and the city tipped to reach 10 million by 2050, food is considered the next big challenge in waste.

The Foodprint​ Melbourne project is a collaboration between academics and councils to discover what it takes to feed Melbourne.

It found the water required to produce the city's food is around 113 litres per person a day and creates 13.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

As the federal government looks to halve food waste by the year 2030, Melbourne this week will host the Ecocity World Summit, one of the biggest urban planning conferences in the world. 

Dr Candy will tell attendees that shoppers can reduce food waste by buying odd-looking food, and supporting local processing of food and waste.

"If food is substandard then it can't be sold in supermarkets and there's no other market for it because those businesses are shutting down," she told Fairfax Media.

"But there are opportunities to look at waste not as waste but as a resource.

"It could be used to produce energy in the city by converting it to biogas [as in Norway and Switzerland] or to compost community gardens."

Joe Pickin​, director of Docklands waste consultancy Blue Environment, said Victoria likely produces more food waste than other states because it has a higher proportion of restaurants and food processors.

Mr Pickin said food waste accounted for about 40 per cent of household garbage, and fewer than 10 per cent of Australians have composts.

"All waste is growing faster than population growth and food waste is growing faster than most other streams," he said.

"The easiest best way to deal with this would be for councils to provide people with a kitchen caddy – a little bin – with little degradable bags that go inside, and people put those full bags into the garden waste bin for composting.

"This would cut down on the organics that make problems in landfill: the methane gas, the smells, the vermin."

While Melbourne has plenty of work to do to reduce its food waste, some people and organisations are doing their bit.

Northcote couple and self-described "foodies" John Camilleri and Emmanuelle Delomenede are passionate about cutting waste, both on environmental and financial grounds.

They do everything from dumpster diving to using a compost and worm farm, and making stock out of scraps.

The couple also preserve food and eat food that is past its best-before or use-by dates.

"We can't even remember the last time we threw out for food," Mr Camilleri said.

Ian Carson is the co-founder and chair of charity SecondBite, which redistributes unsold fresh food to community food programs across Australia.

He said awareness about food waste is on the rise.

Mr Carson said when he started SecondBite 12 years ago, people were "in denial" about the problem but now "more people want to do more about it".

Demand for SecondBite's services is also on the rise, he said, likely due to the high cost of housing and rising utility prices.