Australia wastes 7.3 million tonnes of food a year, with Australian households responsible for dumping more than half of that: about 4.1 million tonnes or around 9kg of food from every home, every week.

But for the first time, we know exactly what we waste, how it is wasted, and where it goes.

Researchers from the University of South Australia have traced the cycle of food waste in a three-year study looking at the economic, environmental and psychological modelling of food waste.

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Christian Reynolds

Food waste has reached ‘pastrygate’ proportions, with government, industry and households throwing away enough pies, pastries and cakes to fill 24 Sydney Opera Houses in one year, an Adelaide economist has shown.

Christian Reynolds, of The University of South Australia, estimated that over 629,000 tonnes of pies, pastries and cakes were discarded in 2008, with total food wastage at 8.7 million tonnes.

“Not only is food waste taking up valuable landfill space, but it is increasing Australia’s carbon footprint through greenhouse gases from decomposition and transport,” says Christian, who conducted the research as part of his PhD.

His research, which was part of a comprehensive study done by The University of South Australia, Flinders University, the Local Government Association of SA and Zero Waste SA, estimated that households discarded 5.5 million tonnes of food waste in 2008, while businesses were responsible for 3.9 million tonnes.

“There were some surprises among the largest food-wasting industries, with retail trade, hotels, clubs, restaurants and cafes; wholesale trade; and education the top four sectors. Now that we have identified them, we can tailor programs to reduce food waste in each of these industries,” Christian says.

But the study was not all bad news. Australian households are engaging in alternative methods of food waste disposal, with an average of 3.2 kilos of food waste per week being diverted to options such as backyard composting or feeding to pet chickens.

“Some local councils now even collect food waste in their green organics bins,” Christian says.

SA State Finalist: Christian Reynolds, University of South Australia