Towards sustainability: Hungary reduces food waste

Through a public program by the National Food Chain Safety Office, food waste in Hungary was reduced by 4%.

Close-up of spilled apples on the ground
©Jasmin Sessler
Hugary produces 1.8 million tons of food waste annually - almost half of which could be saved by conscious consumer behavior

On the path to circularity in the economy and in agriculture, an important recurring issue is food waste. An estimated one-third of all food produced worldwide gets wasted along the food chain, which accounts for 1.3 billion tons of bio-waste. Every year in Europe, millions of tons of food end up in the trash can – The average EU citizen wastes 92 kg of food annually.

This is a major obstacle that policy agendas and environmental programs have to overcome, which is why in 2016, with the aid of the EU’s LIFE instrument, the Hungarian National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH) launched the program Wasteless” aimed at reducing household food waste in the country. Annually, about 1.8 million tons of food waste is produced in Hungary, one third of which comes from households. NÉBIH reports that through the program, annual food waste has been reduced by 4% between 2016 and 2019 – From 68 kg per capita to 65 kg.

According to NÉBIH, domestic food waste can be broken down into unavoidable (e.g. chicken bones, egg shells), potentially avoidable (apple cores, chicken skin, bread crust) and avoidable (food spoilt due to improper storage, or unnecessary purchase) categories and around 48-49% of total domestic food waste (32-33 kg per capita) could be saved through conscious consumer behavior.

Research shows that the reduction of food waste is doable – But it has to focus on awareness campaigns. One paper based on the results of the Wasteless program found that education in childhood is paramount in teaching awareness before excessive consumer habits in adulthood can take root. Another study also found that awareness raising in childhood is of cardinal importance and that while legislative frameworks are already put into place, the role of stakeholders – Policy makers, scientists, experts – is also crucial for public campaigns to be effective.

A close-up of a garden compost box
©Pixabay
The reduction of food waste by 8-10% could save Hungarian households €24.7 million.

The Wasteless program’s current goal is to reduce food waste by 8-10% domestically, which would save the population €24.7 million in household expenses. The program approaches this goal with various instruments. Based on cognitive research, a major pillar is awareness raising for children, providing elementary schools with educational materials on sustainability and food waste – including reading materials, animated short movies, presentations and infographics – and organizing awareness events involving tools like online quiz games. The primary price in these quiz events is participation in a summer camp that teaches children waste prevention best practices through games.

Another campaign for children is a drawing competition titled “Draw for the planet!”, in which elementary school students can win various awards, gift packs, and compost bins for their schools.

Furthermore, the program also offers consultation services to the general public on the topic of reducing food waste, as well as information materials, publications, and waste-free best practices on a range of everyday chores from Easter egg dyeing through lunch recipes and shopping tips to reusing dinner leftovers.

The aim of the program is that consumers switch to purchasing lower quantities of food and favor higher quality domestic food products. The program’s partners include stakeholders from academia, the NGO and private spheres and the government, including, among others, the University of Kaposvár, Szent István University, the Research Institute of Agricultural Economics, Auchan, Lidl, Tesco, Nestlé, Unilever, the Hungarian Food Bank Association and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Photo credit:
"Apple"  by Jasmin Sessler via Pixabay
"Garden" by herb007 via Pixabay