Households in Finland throw out large amounts of edible food each year, so much so that they are the leading source of edible food waste comparatively, accounting for over one-third of the usable food wasted each year. Industrial, retail and food services account for smaller numbers. All in all, households in Finland throw food worth half a billion euros in the rubbish each year.
“In monetary terms, the food that is wasted is equivalent to 125 euros per person, a rather large sum,” says the Consumers’ Union of Finland’s food officer Annikka Marniemi.
In terms of quantity, Finnish residents throw out about 24 kilos of edible food each year. Products that Finns are most eager to pitch include dairy products, vegetables, root vegetables and potatoes.
Swedes waste food at the same rate
Food waste statistics in Sweden are comparative, but international competition is difficult, as Europe still hasn’t come up with a common measure for calculating and comparing food waste. Similarly, there is no data on how much edible food was wasted ten or fifteen years ago.
Society has only woken up to the alarming amounts of food that is wasted each day in the last few years. Yet estimates wager a total of 1,300 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in various stages of the production and consumption chain worldwide. This corresponds to 25 to 30 percent of the food on the planet, and would be enough to feed two billion people.
‘Best before’ date is misleading
One main reason why so much food is wasted is the ‘Best before’ date printed on many products. Most people mistakenly believe it is synonymous with the ‘Use by’ date, but it’s not. The Consumers’ Union of Finland advises that people would be better served by ignoring the ‘Best before’ date and trusting their five senses.
“Smell, taste and test the product to see if it really is spoiled before you throw it out. A lot of the time food items are still usable past the expiration dates. Sour milk products in particular can last for months after their ‘Use by’ date has passed,” says Marniemi.
Lawmakers have long been aware of the connection between large amounts of food waste and the cautionary dates stamped on packaging. The issue has even been discussed at the EU level. But at the moment, nothing is being done to mitigate the problem. One reason for the lack of action could be uncertainty over whether a change in the current practice would actually have any effect.
Marniemi says as long as food companies benefit from the practice, there is little pressure to change it.
“It’s all about taking precautions. Industry and retail use the expiration dates to transfer liability to the consumers, and the consumers adhere to them slavishly.”