Why zero waste is an important trend to save the planet (and save money)

Nowadays, an enormous amount of food goes directly from the table to the trash. It is estimated that 30% of the food produced in the world is wasted every year, for a total of 1.3 million tons. On the other hand, the tendency to live a life producing zero waste is increasingly gaining ground, allowing the reuse and recycling of food products otherwise destined for waste.

Knowledge generates consciousness and this, in turn, produces responsibility. Massimo Bottura

Aware of the problem, many opinion makers worldwide, from Chef No. 1 to the world Massimo Bottura to the associations of direct farmers, have begun to raise awareness of the fact that humanity can no longer put their hands before their eyes when throwing away food. In the special environmental sustainability ranking, France confirms its leadership in the world in the reuse of food products, while Italy for example, still has a lot to do.

The best zero waste initiatives

1. Zero waste: a trend that started at school

Until a few decades ago, a child, sitting at any dining table, was told repeatedly to finish everything that had been put on his plate. It happened regularly because the education of the past told us not to waste anything or, at most, to use the leftovers with recipes for recovery that are now part of the tradition. The culture of zero waste in the family world was the norm. Food that is ready in the supermarket and restaurants is often not reused if it advances.
Food ready at the supermarket and restaurant is often not reused if it is left over.
It may be because the domestic economy is no longer a subject of study at school, but the situation today has changed a lot: the last generations seem to have gotten carried away and, born in a social context in which we have not had to deal with scarcity but rather with the abundance of food. From zero waste to zero reuse, the step is certainly short.

2. France at the top of the zero waste ranking

According to the latest Sustainability Index ranking, the index that analyses the sustainability performance of 67 countries, France confirms its leadership in all three pillars taken into account (fight against food waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges), ahead of the Netherlands, Canada, Finland and Japan, while South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Bulgaria, and the United Arab Emirates close the ranking. Fruits and vegetables are categories where the waste of products is considerable.
Fruits and vegetables are categories where the waste of products is considerable
In the general classification of zero waste, Italy ranks only 28th, with particularly alarming data - about 36 kg of food per year per capita are thrown away, equivalent to almost 8.5 billion euros, i.e. 0.6% of the Italian GDP - mainly because they note that the greatest waste occurs in the home (54%) and not, as we would like to believe, because of the restaurant industry (21%), the retail trade (15%) or the agricultural sector (8%).
The situation of zero waste in recent years seems to be slightly improving, if it is true that, as shown by recent research, 9 Italians out of 10 admit the guilt of throwing food that is “still good” in the bin. And that 4 out of 10 say they have reduced waste in the last year thanks to new and simple habits, but the road is still long and steep.

In Italy, 36 kg. of food per capita is thrown away, for a waste of almost 8.5 billion euros per year.

The anti-waste decalogue presented last year by Coldiretti - the largest association that groups together and represents Italian farmers - also moves in this direction, suggesting virtuous zero waste behavior to consumers (and common sense proof), including:

  • make the shopping list to buy only what is really needed;
  • opting for local, zero-kilometer production;
  • always check labels;
  • put the products back in order of expiration;
  • vary according to seasonality;
  • Cooking with leftovers;
  • ask the restaurant for a family bag, to eat any leftovers at home.
Zero waste meat

4. The zero waste laws to prevent expiring food from being thrown away

If, therefore, at a family level, a few rules would suffice to learn how to reduce waste and move towards a life of zero waste, in other areas the situation must be regulated at an institutional level. France has confirmed its leadership in the field of waste prevention because it was the first country to legislate in this direction.

The problem is not food, but lifestyle. Massimo Bottura

At the beginning of 2016, after a year of work, it became an obligation for large supermarkets and restaurants to work at zero waste, donating the food due to expire to organizations that deal with distributing it to the poor, on the risk of heavy fines or even imprisonment. Fish at zero waste: given the high perishability, it is likely that nothing will be done.
Pesce a rifiuti zero: vista l'alta deperibilità, è probabile non si faccia nulla
The Italian State has tried to take a further step forward for a zero waste policy with the Gadda Law (166/2016), which, instead of being based on the principle of obligation, provides for bureaucratic simplifications, tax relief and bonuses to better manage food surpluses. Really putting into practice zero waste work, in a system that encourages and enhances good practices and collaboration between stakeholders.
Zero waste is the way
One aspect of the problem is, in fact, precisely this: especially in the field of catering and large retailers, very often foods that have lost their characteristic of goods and that for the market would no longer have value can still be valuable as food for those who need it. From this assumption, the philosophy of the reuse of food and consequently the zero waste lifestyle originated.

5. Massimo Bottura, the multi-starred chef and champion of the zero waste trend

One of the most illustrious spokesmen of this philosophy is the Modenese chef Massimo Bottura, in first place at The World's 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 and 2018 with his Osteria Francescana.

To carry on his zero waste culinary beliefs, in 2016, together with his wife Lara Gilmore, Bottura founded Food for Soul, a non-profit association created with the aim of encouraging public, private and non-profit organizations to create and support community canteens around the world, and to involve professionals from different sectors, including chefs, artists, designers and food distributors, in order to promote an alternative approach to the construction of community projects to spread a zero waste lifestyle.

Don't waste money, do zero waste
During Expo 2015, the Milanese Universal Exposition with the theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, the chef began to draw attention to these issues, starting an important initiative in collaboration with Caritas Ambrosiana. The formula of the Refettorio Ambrosiano, which in the following years was successfully exported elsewhere in Italy and then abroad - to Modena, Bologna, Rio de Janeiro and London - brings attention back to the etymology of the word: great chefs put themselves to the test to reuse raw materials and waste from the large-scale retail trade and create dishes that are good to eat and beautiful to look at, to nourish not only the body but also the dignity of the neediest.
Japanese restaurant and food waste

6. Restaurants with dishes cooked only with surplus food

Already in 2013, in the heart of Copenhagen, the first restaurant to offer only the surpluses of the food industry on the menu was Rub&Stub, which literally means everything, without exception. The restaurant, which has now become a social enterprise offering advice and training on the culture of sustainable food and the achievement of the goal of zero waste in food, offered different menus every day based on the food donated by suppliers and was based on the work of four people and a team of over 100 volunteers.
In stock, Silo 39
The mission is the same for InStock, a Dutch restaurant with zero waste that focuses on the recovery of raw materials unsold by local producers and reworked in a creative and tasty way. While Silo 39, in Brighton, is the first zero-waste restaurant in the United Kingdom: not only are the ingredients found from local producers, but any waste is transformed by a compost machine and then sent back to farmers for new productions, in a cycle of giving and receiving that is good for customers and the environment.

7. Solidarity initiatives with zero waste

Solidarity initiatives for a zero waste life in food also pass through social channels and collaboration between different realities: in America there is a partnership between the giant of the non-profit Feeding America and DoorDash and MealConnect, while in Italy a similar initiative is that of Ristorante Solidale, promoted by Just Eat, which connects restaurants in different cities, Caritas and express couriers, to ensure the collection of food to be recovered and home delivery to less fortunate communities and families.
Ristorante contro la fame is a campaign promoted by Azione contro la Fame (Action against Hunger), which arrived in Italy in 2015 and is already present in England and Spain: restaurants can join the program and promote solidarity dishes within their menus, while customers can choose to donate a solidarity blanket to give their contribution to the fight against malnutrition.
A zero waste lifestyle is possible, more than that, it is a duty. The paradox is that, in the face of a wasting society, there is an ever-increasing number of people who instead suffer from hunger: 821 million, that is to say, one inhabitant of the planet out of nine, and according to FAO data, with only the food that is thrown away in Europe you could feed a quarter of this total.

8. Anti-waste apps that help save money

If the teachings of our grandparents have not impressed us, we can always be guided towards a zero waste route by the numerous anti-waste apps: from SpesaFacile, to learn how to better manage our pantry, to ToGoodToGo, No Food Waste and Karma, created to signal to the respective communities of members when a restaurant has surpluses to sell at a low price; passing through MyFoody and Last Minute Sotto Casa, which collect the offers of supermarkets in the area or small local retailers on products nearing maturity or at risk of remaining unsold.
Don't waste food, save it.
In recent years there has been a progressive focus of food, with dedicated channels, sites, and blogs of all kinds. But it would be good to remember that food is not (only) entertainment, it is above all health, culture, wealth. It is an investment in the future to be focused on starting from the present.

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