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A Full Plate of Waste: The EU’s Food Problem

The issue of food waste has gained international attention, and the European Union (EU) is not immune to this difficult problem. The amount of food wasted in the EU is startling, and its effects on the environment, the economy, and society at large are significant. This article seeks to offer a thorough investigation of the alarming topic of food waste in the EU, illuminating its scope, causes, and potential remedies.

According to Eurostat statistics, In 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 131 kilograms of food waste per inhabitant were generated in the EU. Households generated 53 % of food waste, accounting for 70 kg per inhabitant. The remaining 47 % was waste generated upwards in the food supply chain.

The majority of food waste in the European Union is generated by households. Notably, among the nations with the highest rates of food waste are Germany and Italy. Each European citizen generates approximately about 70 kg of food waste yearly on average.

Based on a European Market Study, the product categories that witness the highest levels of disposal include fruits and vegetables, bakery items, and meat.

Food waste at the national scale

When it comes to the national level, according to the UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021, Romania ranks middle among European countries in terms of how much food it wastes. Like other adjacent nations, Romania has an average of 70 kg of food per resident that is thrown out annually. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria all record the same number of kilograms per person, whereas the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine each record 76 kilograms.

There is a lack of data on food waste in Romania. Are we simply good at not wasting food, or are we simply unaware of the true extent of the problem?

In a response addressed by the Parliamentary Commission in 2018, we find that “We are poor Europeans, but we actually throw away more food than others. Research shows that we spend about half our monthly income on food and that 6 000 tonnes of it end up in the bin every day. Food is everything! We can do without going to town, to the cinema, or buying new clothes, as long as our fridges are full. We buy anything and everything, but we cannot eat it all, so the food goes off, exceeds its use-by date, and goes straight into the bin. This is a typically Romanian trait. The figures show that although we are poor, 40% of our income is spent on food.”

The same 2018 EU statistic mentioned, showed that Romania has the ninth highest level of food waste in Europe (2.55%), equating to 2.2 million tonnes of food lost every year, or over 6 000 tonnes per day. Countries that waste even more food than us include the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Poland, and Belgium.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the extent of food waste in Romania, it is essential to engage in dialogue with individuals, so we collected some statements from Romanians that are aware of the food waste phenomena.

Adriana, a 20-year-old European Studies student told us that she does not throw food very often, but at the same time she can’t say that the moments when it happens are rare either. She also states that she is used to buying products that are almost hitting the expiration date “When I do this, it matters a lot which product I find, but also by what percentage it is reduced. And of course the expiration date, so I don’t buy for nothing.” 

The young student doesn’t consider herself a food waster, but there are times when it happens. This is directly proportional to the times she chooses to eat out or buy something on hand. “In those moments I am more likely to throw food out of the fridge, in case it spoils or I consider it relatively old; the age varies depending on the food.” When she was asked how she tries to stop the phenomenon of food waste, she said that the things that work best for her are responsible cooking and shopping. “That means not buying something because I will eat it, but because I know for sure that I will. This helps both for not wasting food and money.”

Adriana wishes that in Romania there were more moves for stopping the waste and making everything better. “There might be one day a week when a certain food category is reduced. Schools could ask students to bring 5 of their favorite foods to create a sandwich and that to be their meals for 2-3 days. At work, the idea of a lunchbox could be more encouraged.”

Laura, a 50-year-old economist declares that she rarely buys still-good, but almost expired food. “In general, I check the price, and only if it looks decent I buy it.” Being asked about her way to fight food waste, she said that she only buys the necessities and goes shopping more often. “In the summer I buy more fruits and vegetables, which do not spoil immediately. If there are leftovers, we make a pizza at home or an omelet with everything decent, I would say.

Laura also told us her ways of stopping food waste, being help with family or friends “I like to portion half of what I bought and inviting guests (friends) to visit. Or I take part of the products to my mother, who never throws anything away (she has special recipes for all seasons).”

Her ideas of things that should be implemented for stopping the phenomenon of throwing up food are various and different. “Fewer rare fruits and vegetables should be imported, a “bag of everything” should be made, a package that contains fruits, vegetables, pasta, and meat, in small quantities and at low prices. With these implemented, people with lower incomes can have more frequent access to vegetables and fruits, because it is important to sell cheaper and more than to keep the price and then throw away half of them.” In the end, she can’t declare herself as being a 100% sustainable person, because “It happens to throw food, but not very often. In general, when I buy on impulse, I buy more. When I get home, I find that I get full quickly with only one or two things, and I eat the rest the next day. If it happens that the next two days you are not at home, something is clearly being thrown.“

Education stands out as a definite measure to combat food waste effectively. At a national level, initiatives like EarthRise Hub play a vital role in educating the younger generation about sustainability and fostering awareness of food waste-related issues.

Irina, a 22-year-old eduprenor(educator) states that: ”Food waste remains a significant issue, not only within Romania but also within the EU as a whole, indicating a clear lack of sufficient measures to combat food waste.” According to her perspective, these measures are inadequate, and there are no sanctions for member states that fail to meet the conditions and measures outlined in the EU’s strategy for sustainable development and combating food waste.

Gabriela Bibicu is the owner of “Bucatarul meu” restaurant. She declares that for her, managing food waste is an important aspect. “We take it very seriously. There are several options we follow to ensure that the food we don’t serve doesn’t go to waste.” She relates that they focus on monitoring inventory for preventing food waste. “We constantly monitor inventory levels and adjust orders accordingly. This helps prevent overstocking, which is a significant risk for a small restaurant like ours. By carefully planning our menu and portions, our aim is to prepare only what is likely to be consumed during each shift.”

Mrs. Bibicu states that they established partnerships with non-governmental organizations in the communities. “Any surplus food that is still safe for consumption and meets quality standards is promptly packaged and delivered to several underprivileged families. As for the scraps, such as chicken skin and claws, they are taken by the “A Doua Șansă” Association, which manages the shelter for stray animals in Feteni. We donate them, of course! It’s a way for us to give something back to the community.

One of the problems that food faces is the ability to be served fresh before it hits the expiration date. Gabriela Bibicu stated that they follow strict procedures to be assured of delivering eatable foodȘ

”Our staff is trained to handle and package the food properly, ensuring that it remains at the appropriate temperature during transport. We use insulated containers and maintain a strict schedule to ensure timely deliveries, so the food reaches its destination while still fresh and safe for consumption. We can’t afford for the food to become spoiled when it reaches the final recipients of the donations.” She also says that they try to repurpose some of the leftover ingredients or prepare dishes that are still in good condition. “They can be incorporated into staff meals or used as ingredients for new menu items. It allows us to be creative and reduce waste simultaneously. For example, we can make cornmeal and mushroom meatballs from leftover mamaliga, which is a new delicacy our team members have tried.”

Being asked about her staff training, Mrs. Bibicu starts explaining. “We heavily rely on our staff; we are all part of the same mechanism that puts food on our tables and pays our bills. We don’t want to waste anything! We believe not only in educating our staff but also our customers about the importance of reducing food waste. We consistently apply proper portioning techniques and waste minimization during food preparation. Additionally, we encourage our customers to order responsibly and offer options for taking leftovers home. The impact is clearly positive, and most customers desire it. They do it at home, so why not do it when they dine out?. It is our responsibility towards the community to educate ourselves and constantly seek ways to improve these anti-food waste methods.”

So, it is not impossible, as a business, to reduce food waste. The key is perseverance, desire, and knowledge. And also support! Without it, nothing is possible: people by people, hand by hand, they connect for their cause and have unbelievably good outcomes.

On the website of the European Commission, it is presented that there is a European Green Deal, that was approved in 2020. “The European Commission has adopted a set of proposals to make the EU’s climate, energy, transport, and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.” Environmental degradation and climate change are two of the biggest and existential threats of our world. The European Green Deal proposes to “transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy ensuring:

  • no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050
  • economic growth decoupled from resource use
  • no person and no place left behind”

Euractiv presents commission President Ursula von der Leyen as she outlined the European Green Deal on 11 December 2019, vowing to “leave no-one behind” in the race to achieve a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

“This is Europe’s man on the moon moment,” she said in a video statement. “Our goal is to reconcile the economy with our planet” and “to make it work for our people,” she added, describing climate policy as Europe’s new growth strategy.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Europe wants to be a front-runner in climate-friendly industries and clean technologies, the former German defense minister explained, adding: “I am convinced that the old growth model based on fossil fuels and pollution is out of date and out of touch with our planet”

On the same page from the European Commission website, they present their plans for the future, named “The benefits of the European Green Deal”

The European Green Deal wants to improve the “well-being and health of citizens and future generations” by trying to improve and provide:

  • fresh air, clean water, healthy soil, and biodiversity
  • renovated, energy-efficient buildings
  • healthy and affordable food
  • more public transport
  • cleaner energy and cutting-edge clean technological innovation
  • longer lasting products that can be repaired, recycled, and re-used
  • future-proof jobs and skills training for the transition
  • globally competitive and resilient industry

Below it is just a page with the actions and the indicative timetable for all the implementations that are part of the Green Deal.


Therefore, the question arises? How can we stop food waste?

the quest for a better and safer world compels us to reevaluate our lives and challenge our ingrained habits. It is evident that significant changes are needed, particularly in the realm of our relationship with food. The practices of excessive buying, wasteful discarding, and neglecting the abundance in our fridges must be transformed.

Education emerges as a pivotal catalyst in this endeavor. We must arm ourselves with knowledge on how to repurpose leftovers, create healthy meals, and navigate grocery shopping with a determined effort to combat the alarming phenomenon of food waste. It is time to break free from the shackles of ignorance and embrace a new era of understanding and enlightenment.

Moreover, the transformation goes beyond personal growth; it requires a shift toward collective action. We must learn the art of sharing what we have, planning our meals meticulously, and creating unwavering shopping lists. These seemingly small acts can have profound ripple effects, fostering a sense of community, compassion, and sustainability.

Writen by: Magdalena-Maria Roșioru, Remus Craioveanu, Mirela Gandraman

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