Germany Has An Ambitious Strategy To Halve Food Waste By 2030

"Food belongs in your mouth and stomach, not in the garbage bin," says Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt.
Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

Germany throws out 11 million kilograms of food every year and Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt has a plan to halve that amount by 2030.

Expiry dates printed on food product labels have a lot to with food waste, according to Schmidt. “Too much food ends up in the trash, even though it’s still edible,” he told HuffPost Germany.

Schmidt, who belongs to the conservative Christian Social Union, became Germany’s agriculture minister in 2014.

His vision is for food products to use smart packaging that can inform consumers when it is no longer edible. A computer chip in a yoghurt-cup could measure if it’s still consumable, for example.

“We need conscious consumers who know where food belongs -- in your mouth and stomach, not in the garbage bin.”

- Christian Schmidt

Schmidt has promised to dedicate 10 million euros to fund research projects and startups that will work toward his goal of finding better ways to determine the freshness of food.

HuffPost Germany spoke with Schmidt about his idea for this project, which he has titled: “Too good for the garbage.”

Mr. Minister, when was the last time you caught yourself throwing away food that was still in decent condition?

It was a half-torn biscuit that I couldn’t finish. Usually I’ll have that packed up and take it with me. I’m strict with myself.

Well, you have to say that now.

No, I actually always feel guilty when food is thrown out. As someone who grew up in a baker’s family, I was raised that way ― bread wasn’t just tossed out. And I grew up at a time when food wasn’t easily discarded. We have to return to an appreciation for food.

Are younger generations more wasteful?

Yes, there is a generation gap. Those over 60 throw away less food than the under-30s.

Why do you think that is?

It’s an abundance frame of mind ― people think it’s no longer necessary to conserve food. Waste has almost become an “everyday” thing. That’s why I’m also fighting for nutrition education to become firmly anchored into our curriculums. We simply need a different approach to our food. This needs to start early.

How would educating children help the food waste problem?

It is sometimes the case that the parents aren’t raising the children, but that the children are raising the parents. Sometimes, this is a good thing. We need conscious consumers who know where food belongs ― in your mouth and stomach, not in the garbage bin.

Is it really that simple? A big part of food waste is produced by households.

Each of us, on average, throws out 82kg of food each year ― that’s way too much. That’s why we can, and we must, do a great deal to combat food waste. But it’s not just about the consumers. The problem is much more complex. For example, we live in a “packaging culture.” Everything is packaged in portions ― but these are not always appropriately sized for singles or for quick purchases. People go for the bigger packages, because there’s nothing in the smaller packages. This gives rise to additional waste.

My goal is to cut food waste in half by 2030.

About three months ago, you announced that you would reform the expiration date. When will consumers notice a difference at the supermarket?

As part of my innovation funding program, there are now around 10 million euros available for the development of “smart packaging,” among other things. These packages would display the information about the quality of the food and help to replace the expiration dates printed on packages in the long term.

And, in my opinion there shouldn’t be an expiration date on non-perishable products such as coffee, noodles and flour. I’m working on that at the EU level. I will also hold talks with businesses to develop criteria to give expiration dates to specific foods. I assume reforms could be on the way within the next two years.

Do you think that this decision could be postponed because of Brexit?

I don’t believe so. We must free ourselves from thinking that all issues need British approval. Frankly, the expiration date issue has no copyright. If the United Kingdom wants to join, I would have no problems with that. The 27 remaining countries will move forward with this issue anyway.

France has taken it one step further: French supermarkets are no longer allowed to throw anything out. Perishable food must be donated, decaying food composted or processed into animal feed. More and more Germans want to see a similar initiative in Germany.

There will be no such law in Germany. First, German supermarkets are much more likely to give food to social institutions just before the expiration date than French supermarkets. We don’t need to over-regulate here. Secondly, the change in regulation changes nothing about the root problem, namely, the surplus. Too much food is tossed out despite being edible.

Is it enough to cut the amount of food thrown out in half by 2030? Germany has committed to this goal before the United Nations.

With the federal prize for the engagement against food waste, we’re finding businesses and projects. In the past year alone, we’ve had hundreds of submissions and good ideas ― that was a pleasant surprise. A new round of the competition started in early July.

Many people in Germany are already committed to combating food waste ― whether through volunteering, unusual business ideas, trade innovations, gastronomy or food production.

I want to strengthen and promote this engagement. I’ll also turn the initiative “Too good for the garbage” into a national strategy to combat food waste. To achieve this, we need the participation of people in the food industry, as well as people in the different states and NGOs.

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Germany and has been translated into English.

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