Enough to Go Around
Food waste is a worldwide problem. According to a 2013 report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, a third of all food produced for consumption globally ends up on landfills. Studies conducted by the environmental NGO CENN in 2016 and 2018 found that, 40% of the waste found on dumpsites across Georgia is organic waste; much of which is food. In every single one of the country’s municipalities, household waste makes up the majority of all waste. According to the morphological studies of dumpsites across the country, organic waste tends to make up the majority of all waste.
The reasons behind food waste can range from anything from products being too close to the expiration date, to incorrect labeling, (slightly) damaged packaging, deterioration of the quality of fresh products, over-supply, large portion sizes, or poor hygiene and storage practices. Customer preferences and local customs such as extravagant weddings also play a role.
Supermarket products in Georgia are removed from the shelves two weeks before their expiry date to avoid potential problems of liability or accusations of poor quality. For example, last year the biggest losses for Georgian branches of some supermarket chains were usually of fruits and vegetables, as well as meat According to one unpublished report seen by the author, supermarket chains in Georgia throw out between 300 and 500 kg of products every three days per branch.
Products considered “high risk” such as meat usually include Use By dates on their packaging. Low-risk products, such as grains, are usually labeled with a Best Before date, which means that the product can still be consumed for some time after the date indicated. Partly due to a lack of understanding of this distinction and partly out of a desire to play things safe, many supermarket products are sometimes thrown out before the “best before” date.
Furthermore, donating food can also prove to be bad for business. Unfavorable tax regulations make supermarkets reluctant to give away unsold food; even donations to charitable organizations are VAT taxable, meaning that the supermarket has to pay 18% of the product’s market price. As there are no regulations allowing for donor protection, supermarkets also risk bearing the entire liability for donations.
For Georgia’s soup kitchens and charities, this amount of discarded food could make a world of difference. Catharsis is another Tbilisi-based charitable organization, founded in 1990, which provides meals to the poor among other services. Its premises include a dining area, café, theater, and library among other amenities. Catharsis vice president Guliko Romanishvili remembered the organization’s cooperation with the supermarket Euro Product last year.
“We had a really diversified menu as a result. For many of our beneficiaries, some of the products were really exotic like cheese spread and beer. They loved the beer we received from the supermarket, none of them had ever tried anything of the sort before,” remembers Romanishvili. Catharsis has 10 staff fundraising on a daily basis and cold-calling donors to sustain its operations. As Guliko puts it, a consistent stream of support from supermarkets or food banks would make a world of difference to the charity and those it helps.