A huge improvement is required in efforts to reduce food waste if Ireland is to meet its 2030 target to halve the €700 annual cost to households, the Minister for the Environment has warned.
Richard Bruton said he is reviewing the data on current efforts to cut waste "at different points in the food chain" and his department plans to increase recycling by encouraging more homes and businesses to use brown bins.
The department also aims to strengthen public awareness and is looking at the role of schools, which “are an important channel to promote improved practices”.
Mr Bruton pointed to the global figure that an estimated a third of all food produced is wasted each year, equivalent in Ireland to nearly one million tonnes and 90 million tonnes in the EU.
One third of that waste is in retail and catering, a smaller share is consumer waste and a “somewhat larger share by producers”, Mr Bruton said.
“Supermarkets are directly responsible for the disposal of only 2 per cent of food waste, but their influence across the supply chain makes them central actors” to combat this problem.
Speaking in the Dáil this week, Mr Bruton highlighted the participation of a number of chain stores in the department’s “action group” on the issue.
Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Musgrave and BWG (Spar, Eurospar, Mace, Londis and XL stores) signed up to a charter of commitments on food waste and support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Stop Food Waste campaign, as well as collecting and sharing food waste data.
They have also signed up to the FoodCloud (STET) donation network, a company that links retailers holding excess food with charities.
Mr Bruton told Fine Gael TD Joe Carey, who asked about the efforts of supermarkets to cut such waste, that the department was also encouraging increased uptake of brown bins, which "aren't universally" in place.
Mr Carey pointed to the success of a pilot project in French Park in Roscommon, which provides a composter training programme, and said it could be expanded to encourage wider use of brown bins.
The Clare TD also highlighted waste problems in the grading system for vegetables. He said that “where a vegetable might be a different size or look different to the normal one, they are thrown out”.
Mr Burton acknowledged that “over one third of waste is at producer end which reflects practices like that”. He suggested such discards could be recycled to other materials, whether for animal feeds or “consumer chain” use.
Mr Bruton said he was happy to look at suggestions from players in the field and to meet them to go through “the sort of policy changes we need” to develop an effective strategy.
But he said it was clear that “a 50 per cent reduction is going to require huge improvements”.