Food waste is a huge issue in Qatar. In 2012, a massive 1.4 million metric tonnes of food was consumed and wasted in Qatar. This figure, divided by the then population of 2.05 million, equates to an average of 636 kilograms (kg) of food per person for the year, or 1.74 kg per day. Given the benchmark of two kg per person per day (preferably nutritious fare that does not contain too many kilojoules), that does not sound too excessive. But if you remove the young, elderly, short-term visitors/workers and people who consume less than two kg per day from the equation, it is clear that much more than two kg per adult is either consumed or wasted. This only compounds the country’s rapidly growing and expensive obesity problem.
Added to the wasted food are the litres of bottled water and soft or hot drinks that are consumed every day. The average Qatari resident uses 675 litres of water per day (drinking, washing and waste), at a rate double that of the average European.
Over and above the 1.4 million tonnes of wasted food, an additional 14 percent – representing nearly 20 million kilograms – is also discarded or destroyed before it even reaches the Qatari end-consumer. This food is either past its sell-by date or spoilt due to problems with the cooling chain. On one hand, this is due to a lack of effective agricultural planning, and decades of environmental degradation (after all, even the local fish industry is but a shadow of its former self). But on the other hand, Qatar’s growing and increasingly affluent population means that money is no deterrent in terms of the quantity and quality of food demanded. Huge banquets, often with expensive exotic food, are commonplace, and Qatar is the fastest-growing food consumption market among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
According to data published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2014, the average local inhabitant wastes up to 250 kg worth of food per year, compared to just 70 kg in other regions. But while Qatar as a country, and the GCC as a region, are among the biggest culprits, food waste is a global problem. Nearly 30 percent of all food fails to end up in someone’s mouth, and if the total worldwide food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 offender on the planet.
Qatar-based sustainability advocacy group EcoMENA estimates that about half of the waste sitting in Qatar’s landfills is made up of leftover food. The combination of the country’s very high consumption rate and very low recycling rate, mean that mountains upon mountains of food are being dumped. Furthermore, only a minimal portion of this discarded food is being composted, despite the short supply of good soil. EcoMENA’s research shows that up to 25 percent of all food prepared during Ramadan is eventually thrown away – even at a time when the distribution of leftover food to the poor is traditionally at its highest.