National Spotlight: Japan

Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 18 million tons in 2010, according to the Ministry of Agriculture

When global climate change awareness started gaining traction in the 1990s, Japan was quick to put recycling on the national agenda. Since then, its recovery and waste management policies have included innovative food waste solutions focused on repurposing would-be waste for animal feed and fertilizer.

japan recycling
Photo courtesy of Timothy Takemoto

The Food Waste Recycling Law (English summary here), passed in 2001, called for the development of national food loss reduction targets and standards for businesses as well as recycling promotion strategies. Six years later, the law was given more teeth: it assigned recycling volume targets by  food industry sector, required businesses to report their waste quantity and their recycling efforts each year, and encouraged collaboration between the food and recycling industries. These measures spawned Recycling Business Plans, aka “recycling loops,” to circulate resources. For instance, a retailer might pass its waste to a business that converts it into fertilizer or animal feed, which is then used to produce foods that the retailer purchases to sell. Much organic waste is also diverted to biofuel production.

Thanks primarily to the recycling law, Japan recycled 82% of its food waste in 2010. Nevertheless, food constituted 25-30% of municipal solid waste in that same year. A leading culprit for these disappointing figures is the “one-third rule” that many companies follow. Looking at a product from its manufacture to its best-by date, manufacturers must deliver the food to retailers within the first third of its lifespan, and it cannot be sold after the second third. So, a can of nuts manufactured in January 2015 with a best-by date of January 2017 a) has to be delivered to retailers by August 2015 and b) has to be purchased by April 2016 – otherwise, it’s thrown out. The annual values of food returns to wholesalers and to manufacturers based on date-expiration sum to more than ¥155 billion. In a few exemplary cases (16%), though, products past the sell-by period are sold at discounted prices, rather than trashed. Fortunately, Japan has been reexamining the unwritten “rule” over the last couple of years and extending shelf-life labels of shelf-stable foods such as canned products, bottled water, and packaged rice cakes.

japan sushiAesthetic perfectionism is another cause of waste that Japan is just starting to address. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that food rejected for purely visual reasons accounts for roughly one-third of the country’s annual waste. To call attention to this issue, the company a-dot has launched four distinct restaurants across Tokyo that specialize in using foods that are deemed “unsellable” by retail aesthetic standards. The project, called Mottainai (“wasteful”) Action, not only saves food from being tossed but also rewards producers and market vendors for their products (otherwise, they would have earned no profit for unsold food).

Finally, there is the Foodloss Challenge Project, launched in 2012 to analyze how and why food waste occurs and strategize what can be done about it. The project began with studies that examined food waste management practices at all levels of the food supply chain. Participants in the research (farmers, retailers, manufacturers, restauranteurs, chefs, consumers, etc.) not only learned about the economic inefficiency and ecological harms of waste but also brainstormed ways to raise public awareness and promote new practices to cut down on waste. The campaign then hosted a “salvage party” on household waste reduction tips in which consumers brought leftovers from their homes for on-site chefs to improvise into new dishes. Additionally, the project has launched extracurricular programs to teach children about waste as well as a sticker for retailers to affix to products approaching their expiration date to encourage customers to buy them sooner. Meanwhile, nonprofit food banks have become increasingly prevalent, redistributing unwanted consumer-, farmer-, and company-donated food items to people in need.

japanAlthough Japan still has a lot of work to do in the food waste prevention department, the country’s steps to improve waste management are laudable. Japan is worth keeping an eye on as it develops more mechanisms to deal with waste.

Keep pushing forward, Japan! 食品廃棄物にノーと言います.

Eva

Additional Sources:

Federica Marra (Food Tank) – Food Waste in Japan: How Eco-towns and Recycling Loops are Encouraging Self-Sufficiency

Kaori Iwashita and Junko Edahiro (Japan for Sustainability Newsletter) – The Foodloss Challenge Project, a Co-created Project on Food Loss and Waste

OECD – Preventing Food Waste: Case Studies of Japan and the United Kingdom

Expo Milano 2015: You’ll Wish You Were There

When learning about the appalling levels of food insecurity and waste in our world, one can quickly become cynical about whether these problems will ever be resolved, especially when it seems like so few people in power are truly aware of, much less concerned with their consequences. The organizers of Expo Milano 2015, however, beg to differ. From May 1st through October 31st, the city of Milan is playing host to representatives from 145 nations and international organizations (including Oxfam, the WWF, and the UN) as they participate in a global showcase of food security presentations, proposing sustainable solutions to one of our world’s most dire crises. The theme of the expo, ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,’ emphasizes the importance of international coordination in addressing issues of nutrition while respecting our planet’s resources.

Expo2Of course, the expo isn’t all work and no play. In addition to sharing their insights on food security, participating countries share their food culture with visitors through exhibits on their gastronomic traditions and samples of their cuisines. Every participant (country or organization) has its own pavilion or a space within one of the nine Thematic Clusters where it can display its exhibits based on its chosen theme. For instance, the Afghan exhibition ‘Eating for Longevity, Afghanistan Amazingly Real’ can be found in the Spices cluster and aims to rectify cultural misconceptions by showcasing the country’s local foods as well as recent advancements in hospitality and women’s rights. Some of the thematic areas are based on globally-significant foods, such as Rice, Fruits and Legumes, and Coffee, while others, like the Bio-Mediterraneum, are more conceptual, described as providing “multi-sensorial and educational experiences” to educate visitors about the history and future of food through social, cultural (i.e. artistic), technological, and ecological lenses.

Courtesy of corelanguages.com
Courtesy of corelanguages.com

For those of us who can’t make it to Milan in the next 5 months, there is an online magazine that shares photos and highlights from the expo, articles on the central topics, and interviews with various speakers (‘Expo Ambassadors’). There is also a map that shows off the creative designs of the various pavilions, clusters, and thematic areas. I highly recommend checking the site out, although I must warn that it might fill you with a painful sense of sorrow for not being able to see the expo in person. Unfortunately, I had to decline an invitation to participate in a food waste event being held there in June, but I’m sure Expo Milano 2015 will be inspiring several more of my posts here on SayNotoFoodWaste over the next few months. After all, it’s wonderful to see so many people celebrating the value of food to our world and working to make a real, global impact.

Eva

PS: The US pavilion has its own website.