What are the economic and environmental impacts of food waste in Israel?

"The impact of food waste on the environment and the economy is significant, but it doesn’t have to be this way."

Israelis wear protective face masks as they shop for food at the Carmel market in Tel Aviv on August 12, 2020 (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israelis wear protective face masks as they shop for food at the Carmel market in Tel Aviv on August 12, 2020
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
The environmental cost of food waste in Israel is NIS 3.2 billion ($945 million) annually, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Ministry and Leket Israel.
In addition to the cost of wasted food, NIS 1.4 billion ($410 million) is spent on unnecessary waste of land and water resources, NIS 1 billion ($295 million) on greenhouse gas and air pollution, and NIS 0.8 billion ($236 million) on waste collection and processing.
At the consumption stage, food waste is responsible for about 55% of the total environmental costs, and increases food prices at all stages of the value chain by 11%. This causes production and labor loss, which impairs productivity in the economy.
“This money could have financed one-fifth of the state’s COVID-19 aid budget,” according to Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel, the accounting and consulting firm that wrote and edited the report.  
“The financial and environmental costs of food loss, along the entire value chain, end up being paid directly out of the pockets of Israeli consumers and taxpayers, and negatively affect the cost of living,” Herzog said. “Specifically this year, considering the COVID-19 pandemic, it is of paramount importance to formulate a national plan for food rescue.”
Food waste equates to an estimated 35% of the volume of municipal waste; the direct external economic cost in 2019 equated to approximately NIS 1.2 billion ($352 million). Moreover, food waste accounts for about a third of all household waste in Israel. Findings from the report reveal that an average Israeli family throws away NIS 3,300 ($970) worth of food per year.
IN TERMS of the environmental effects, food waste is responsible for 6% of greenhouse gas emissions in Israel, which is equivalent to GHG emissions from 1.6 million cars per year – about half the number of cars in Israel. According to the report, minimizing the extent of food waste in Israel would significantly help the national effort to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to which the Israeli government committed in the Paris Agreement, signed at the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2015.
“The Food Waste and Rescue Report shows that the impact of food waste on the environment and the economy is significant, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” said Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel.
“The report reveals that approximately 35% of all food produced in Israel is thrown out, and handling this waste and surplus consumes additional resources – not to mention the resources required for cultivating and producing this food: land, water, energy, pollutant emissions, etc., which are also being wasted,” Gamliel said. “Now, during this global health pandemic and economic crisis, it is incumbent upon us to save these resources, which can also help weaker populations.”
Gamliel said that the ministry is working on formulating waste reduction strategies, including food, which especially involve reducing waste at the source. Other actions taken by the ministry include promoting policies that encourage the reduction of food waste and its impact on the environment.
In 2019, 1.87 million people were suffering from food insecurity in Israel, and according to BDO estimates, the COVID-19 pandemic caused food insecurity for an additional 145,000 people.
TO CLOSE the food insecurity gap in Israel, the report suggests “rescuing” at least 20% of the food wasted, which only costs NIS 880 million ($258 million) to do compared to the aforementioned NIS 3.2 billion ($945 million) the waste itself costs annually. Food rescue would help minimize the economic damage from the ensuing economic crisis after the pandemic and decrease the environmental costs imposed on the Israeli economy as a consequence of food produced that is not consumed.
Moreover, food rescuing would save about 80 million cubic meters (80 billion liters) of water, 250 million kWh of electricity, and thousands of tons of fuel. In addition, NIS 220 million ($65 million) would be saved as a result of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and about NIS 160 million ($46 million) would be saved from waste treatment costs.
Food waste in Israel amounts to 2.5 million tons (5.5 billion pounds) annually, with a market value of NIS 20.3 billion ($6 billion), constituting 1.5% of the national product. In addition to the loss of natural resources, the cost of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and waste treatment totals an estimated NIS 22 billion ($6.5 billion). Almost half of this loss – 1.2 million tons (2.6 billion pounds), valued at NIS 7 billion ($2 billion) – could be saved, according to the report.
In addition to food waste, the report also lists other resources wasted in Israel annually.
These include: 1,260 million kWh of electricity, equivalent to the total amount of electricity needed to produce all computers, electronic and electrical equipment in Israel each year; 70,000 tons of fuel that could fuel 160,000 cars in Israel annually; 180 million cubic meters (180 billion liters) of fresh water, which would fill 56,000 Olympic-size pools and is the equivalent of every Israeli citizen taking one shower daily for a year; 100,000 hectares (about 250,000 acres) of agricultural land, equivalent to 20 times the size of Tel Aviv.
“Based on the 2019 Food Waste and Rescue Report, and in light of the intensifying COVID-19 crisis, it is more critical than ever to adopt food rescue as a national government policy to address welfare, the environment, health and the economy,” said Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch.
“Food rescue contributes to reducing food insecurity for vulnerable populations for one-third of the cost, increases the GDP and economic productivity, minimizes societal gaps, lowers the cost of living, and better utilizes scarce environmental resources,” he said.
“I am delighted to have worked with the Ministry of Environmental Protection to write this year’s report, and I sincerely hope that this cooperation will contribute to a greater understanding of the effectiveness of food rescue and to its adoption by the government as a national policy.”