This week the environmental organisation, the World Wide Fund for Nature, shared a new study on the huge amount of baked goods wasted by German households, bakeries and businesses every year – 1.7 million tonnes. Germans love bread: 90% of the population eat bread at least once a day, the study says. German bread culture was made official by UNESCO in 2014 as “intangible cultural heritage” – the German bread institute has 3,200 variations on the “bread register”.
However, German households are responsible for a whopping 49% of that total waste. Bakery losses come in at 36%, and further trade is responsible for 13%, the WWF study says – the research for which was undertaken between May 2017 and March 2018. Due to massive overproduction, every fifth baked good in Germany is left unsold in some cases – medium to large size bakeries have annual losses of up to 19% of their total production. In smaller bakeries with handmade products, the losses are smaller – but these small businesses make up only one percent of the bakery landscape.
The impact of this much waste on the environment is the unnecessary emission of 2.46 million tons of greenhouse gases, which the study compares to the equivalent of the harvest from 398,000 hectares of farmland going to waste.
“Weather extremes will increase as a result of global warming. In the future, we simply can not and should not be able to claim farmland to this extent, just to throw away the cereals grown from it, as bread, croissants or tarts,” Jörg-Andreas Krüger, the Head of Department of Ecological Footprint at WWF Germany said (translated from German).
Sure, in some cases excess baked goods might be donated, can even become biogas, or are sent off to be used in animal feed, the study points out. But the findings have raised the alarm on the possibility of plastic ending up in animal feed: when bakery goods are being processed for animal feed, they’re crushed together with the packaging in order to separate the food out. But there are no further processes to ensure that no plastic particles from the packaging are left behind. The WWF estimates that 400,000 tonnes of food waste from bakeries ends up as animal feed – particularly pig feed.
“It is incomprehensible why it is accepted that plastic can get into animal feed and thus not only into our environment, but directly into the human food chain,” says Tanja Dräger de Teran, the coordinator of the study from WWF Germany. “The production of animal feed from baked goods must be inspected urgently.” (translated from German).
The study also highlights a glaring lack of technology in bakeries across the country, pointing out that of twelve thousand businesses, barely a dozen appear to use any kind of program that could help avoid waste by over-production, by tracking sales and inventory. A note included in the study highlights the difficulty gathering this research, due to lack of cooperation from some bakeries, shops and the waste disposal industry.
To cut this amount of waste in half by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals 12.3, the global initiative on food loss and waste reduction, the WWF study calls for a coordinated national strategy with “clearly defined, binding targets”; better access to information on bread and bakery losses and how the waste gets used; and a review of possible micro-plastics in animal feed caused by bakery packaging.