Promote its reduction through efforts across society as a whole

Food waste, the discarding of items that are still edible, squanders precious resources. To promote its reduction, it is vital to share awareness of not producing too much and not buying too much.

Unsold, returned or leftover foods are among the items contributing to food waste, which was estimated at 5.22 million tons in Japan in fiscal 2020, down 8% from the 5.7 million tons the previous fiscal year. The fiscal 2020 figure was the lowest since estimates began in fiscal 2012.

The amount of food waste generated in fiscal 2020 by businesses, such as food manufacturers and dining establishments, fell 11% to 2.75 million tons from fiscal 2019, and the household-generated amount of food waste, such as from individuals overbuying ingredients or throwing away food, dropped 5% to 2.47 million tons.

The government has set a target of halving the fiscal 2000 amount of 9.8 million tons to 4.89 million tons in fiscal 2030.

Looking at the figures for fiscal 2020 alone, the reduction of food waste has progressed steadily, but it is necessary to pay attention to a special factor: the restaurant industry has held back on purchasing products due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should social activity return to pre-pandemic levels and demand for dining out increase, it is still important to minimize the increase in food waste and direct such efforts to achieving the target.

A global food crisis is feared in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate remains at 37% on a calorie basis. Society as a whole must continue efforts to reduce food waste.

According to commercial practices in the food industry, if products have already spent more than a third of the time from their manufacture to their best-before dates, in many cases they cannot be delivered to retailers. There have been movements aimed at changing the one-third rule to half the period, and attempts to further extend the best-before dates by switching the indication to years and months rather than exact dates.

It is hoped that a production system based on accurate demand forecasts will also be established.

At retailers, discounts on boxed lunches that have passed a certain amount of time from their production and the granting of points to purchasers who buy such products are becoming widespread. It is advisable to expand the range of discounts and increase eligible products. Pre-orders of seasonal goods, such as ehomaki rolled sushi served on setsubun — which usually falls on Feb. 3 — and Christmas cakes, are also highly effective.

For dining establishments, adding smaller servings to menus for light eaters and allowing people to take home leftovers if they wish would help reduce the amount of waste.

In order to reduce food waste at home, consumers themselves should rethink their excessive focus on freshness.

The best-before date, which represents the period of time during which foods can be best enjoyed, differs from the consume-by date that is labeled on perishable products. Even if the best-before date arrives, there is no need to immediately discard these products.

Above all, it is important to devise measures to prevent overbuying. The habit of checking the type and quantity of foodstuffs at home and limiting purchases to what is necessary may lead to a reduction in food waste.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 17, 2022)