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Romanians' opinions on food waste
Food waste is one of the most worrying aftermaths of today's consumerism, and Romania is not spared that scourge either. Food waste has become really troublesome so much so that in 2016 a bill was passed to fight food waste. Unfortunately, the implementation standards of the law are yet to be completed. Big quantities of food are being thrown in the litter bin by the Romanians, according to recent estimates. Such quantities are large enough to load more than 120,000 trucks each year. Food costs account for 40% of Romanians' incomes, but unfortunately, 35 to 40% of the food ends in the litter bin. Clearer and more recent pieces of information have recently been made public thanks to a sociological survey carried in the summer and autumn of 2020 by Cluj-Napoca's University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary medicine, as part of an international project financed by the Francophone University Agency. The research focused on three countries, Romania, Republic of Moldova and Northern Macedonia. The results were not that much different from one country to the next, of the three aforementioned states. For instance, taking food habits into account, the vast majority of the respondents stated they more often than not made a shopping list, which speaks about prudence and precaution. Also, around 90% of respondents said they usually cooked at home, which, at least in theory, meant a lower degree of degradation for the food, since it was cooked as fresh as possible. However, the study carried by the university in Cluj only confirms earlier estimates on food waste in Romania. Cristina Pocol is the coordinator of the research team:
"Irrespective of their country of origin, respondents said they throw food away. 83% of Romanian respondents said that. A similar answer was provided by 78.8% of the respondents from Republic of Moldova, as well as by 67.2% respondents in Northern Macedonia. There are quite a few habits related to food waste. We wanted to find our whether respondents checked the expiry date of a certain food produce. Most of them said they never failed to do that each time they took their consumer's decision. Then most of the respondents are very particular about the way they store their food, where and how they do that. And are somehow interested in avoiding food waste. Practically, it was very interesting for us to find out that, when asked how interested they were in avoiding the waste of food, for their most part they said they were very interested, and that it was a topic they really cared about. But that comes in stark contrast with their behavior. Okay, they are interested in the topic of food waste, but they throw food away. These two things just don't add up. They do no know how to curb waste, they do not have the required methods to do that, meaning that for them, education to that end is in short supply. Let me just say that once again, most of them throw food away. Most of them are interested in the topic of food waste. However, we notice such a contradiction did exist. And the explanation I found for that was that they try, and have that in mind, but they do not put that into practice. They do not put that into practice for several reasons: they may have tried and failed in their efforts, and when it comes to that, we also need to see the reason why they failed."
Also, according to the respondents of the survey, those who waste most of the food are the restaurants and the individual consumers, while economic operators come in third, especially the supermarkets where people mainly make their purchase. Cristina Pocol:
"We had a question related to the buying habits. We still noticed a behavior pattern which practically comes a s no surprise for us. For their most part, people do their shopping from the supermarket and the hypermarket. Very few people for the time being, opt for the small traders, for the short supply circuits. Most of them resort to the hypermarkets, and then they go to the marketplace. Very few of them use the short circuits or value the producer's direct relationship with the consumer, which is very important in various respects. Actually, the retail gives you the opportunity to consume fresh and genuine products, Romanian products. So I believe there's a lot more work to do when it comes to that, meaning we also need to carry education campaigns to that end. Nonetheless, it would be better to raise the consumers' awareness on the importance of buying local."
The sanitary crisis triggered by the COVID-19 virus did not change the buying habits in Romanian and Republic of Moldova. About two thirds of the respondents stated they could buy the same quantity of food with the same money. However, a change does exist, which occurred during the pandemic, but it was not the one we expected. Cristina Pocol:
"The crisis triggered by the COVID-19 virus prompted more than 10% of the respondents to throw more food away. I expected a totally different result. In my mind, the following mechanism was working: I thought that, since we had the lockdown, we were more careful about what we eat, how we eat and how we plan our shopping. That is why started off from the assumption whereby such a thing would have food waste reduction as a result. The outcome of the study has revealed otherwise. 10% of the respondents say they throw more during the pandemic. I tried to find explanations to that. Much larger stocks may have been made. That could be the main explanation. We all know what happened at the beginning of the sanitary crisis, when people went wild buying boxes of food, they bought food in very large quantities for fear they would be deprived of food supplies. That could be an explanation. That food could not be consumed straight away and in a relatively short period of time. So, part of it was disposed of. I believe the clear explanation for all that is the fact that, eventually, too much storage of food lead to waste. "
Meanwhile, some of the economic operators and civic associations stage awareness-raising campaigns for a within-bounds consumption rate and for the fated consequences food waste has on the economy as well as on the environment. InfoCons is an NGO that has staged such a campaign targeting the economic costs of food waste. Sorin Mierlea is the president of InfoCons. He believes that, if emphasis is laid on economic loss, the message for fighting food waste is easier to reach the public. Sorin Mierlea:
"First off, when we speak about food waste it is not the problematics we discuss, but we also need to consider the money we pay each time we buy food products that end in the litter bin afterwards. That kind of cost means hours of work while those hours of work eventually mean the life of every one of us. In another move, I believe that each and every one of us, in our capacity as consumers, need to have all the data and the info lest we have no choice other than saying we did not know anything about it. Therefore, InfoCons, jointly with other entities in other countries, since this it's a cross-border project, has set out to raise the public opinion's but also the public authorities' awareness on the impact food waste may have."
Held in schools, during the homeroom classes, also using digital resources, the InfoCons campaign offers the required tools so that the prospective consumers may be correctly informed on food waste.
(Translation by Eugen Nasta)
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