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Pulitzer Center Update February 29, 2016

Initiatives to Curb Food Waste Go Into Effect in Denmark, South Korea

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About a third of all the food we produce goes to waste. What we thoughtlessly leave to rot in fields...

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A food vendor sells local fare at one of the dozens of eateries inside the Gwangjang Market. Image by Karim Chrobog. South Korea, 2014.

Copenhagen's new supermarket, WeFood, can help Danish residents cut down on food waste and their grocery bills, TakePart reported.

How? By selling "rescued food" to customers at a more cost efficient price than other neighborhood grocery stores.

Started by the nonprofit DanChurch Aid, WeFood receives all its products from supermarket chains that would otherwise throw their food away because of the products' unmarketable status. WeFood then sells the rescued food at a reduced rate and effectively decreases the amount of food wasted in the city.

Approximately one third of the world's food supply—or about 1.3 billion tons of food—is wasted each year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Very often, shops will toss foods before they spoil or present any kind of health risk. In addition, many individuals throw away leftovers or partially used food even if the products are still edible.

The United States is one of the guiltiest parties. In the U.S., about 40 percent of all the food never gets eaten, Pulitzer Center grantee and filmmaker Karim Chrobog reported in his video series about food waste. In other words, about 150 trillion calories are lost and wasted, rotting in U.S. fields and landfills.

Wasted food is the byproduct of developed countries like the U.S. Its ripple effect is felt at home and around the globe. Forty-eight million Americans are considered to be food insecure, Chrobog wrote. And, some 795 million people worldwide live in hunger, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

For his project "Wasted," Chrobog analyzed two developed countries on opposite sides of the world—and the food waste spectrum—to compare their responses to the global food waste problem. Through his reporting he learned that the U.S. is the world's greatest food waster while South Korea is the world's largest food recycler.

As a country with a strong food culture, South Korea enjoys the world's strictest food waste laws, Chrobog reported.

"There is a nationwide ban that prohibits food residues from being discarded into landfills and waterways," he wrote. "And now, as one of the world's most wired countries, the government hopes to utilize its technological supremacy to capture food straight from households and businesses and convert discards into valuable commodities and economic drivers."

Today, every household, restaurant and hotel in South Korea is mandated to discard and separate out food wastes into special containers so the food can be sent to recycling plants.

While your hometown may not have mandated food waste laws like South Korea or food rescue supermarkets like Denmark, you can still help reduce food waste in other ways. Consider the following tips:

  • Shop smart and buy exactly what you need
  • Freeze, preserve or can surplus fruits and vegetables
  • Designate one dinner each week as a "use it up" meal and eat leftovers
  • Find locations to donate what you don't use and participate in food drives
  • Understand expiration dates (some foods can be consumed well past the expiration date.)

For more tips and resources, visit the websites of the Food and Agricultural Department of the United Nations (FAO), United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Think.Eat.Save.