Study maps makeup of Czech household waste

Photo: The town of Jihlava

Last month students from Vienna’s University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences sank their gloved hands into piles of Czech garbage – specifically from the town of Jihlava and surrounding areas. The work was part of a project mapping household waste, including food items. I spoke to Professor Felicistas Schneider, who led her students in the study and found out for example that some Czechs triple-wrap food waste in thin baggies. But she began first by discussing the main aim of the project in connection with raising awareness and reducing food waste.

Photo: The town of Jihlava
“The wasting of food is a serious problem if nothing else than for all the resources that are needed to produce food along the value-added chain: you need a lot of water, land, resources like energy to produce it, to transport it, to make packaging material and so on. At the end of an item’s shelf life, when you get rid of it, if you don’t have proper treatment of food waste than it goes to landfills where waste is decomposed by microorganisms which creates methane and adds to green house gas emissions. One of our main focuses is to prevent food waste and map residual household waste in Austria and the Czech Republic and to promote measures helping cut food wastage.”

What are some steps that will be highlighted in the ensuing report?

“We found even in earlier studies that many households don’t have a good idea of how much food they have at home and the storage: people typically buy too much bread or too much milk or they want to eat only the freshest fruits and vegetables, so they end up throwing a lot away. We offer information on how to keep products fresh, how to store it, what to hang on to and so on; a lot of people don’t really understand the meaning of the best before and use by dates: a lot of people throw out food needlessly.”

Felicistas Schneider  (right)
How many students took part in the study? I read that they sifted through four tonnes of waste… and what precautions did they have to take?

“Sorting analysis took two weeks and we split up into two groups: one for each week. There was always four of us – three students and I in the first week, and three more in the second. And of course you have to proceed with caution because you can’t know what someone might have thrown out: broken glass, knives, and so on.”

Were there peculiarities in what Czechs throw out compared to the Austrians?

“There were some differences, namely to do with varied packaging and recycling systems. In Austria, milk is packaged in corrugated cardboard but here it appeared that a lot of milk comes in milk bottles, so there was a difference in the volume of milk containers: in the Czech Republic a lot of them are getting recycled. We didn’t see those Austrian-style boxes getting thrown out.”

One Czech daily pointed out that you came across one unusual thing: a tendency by some in Jihlava to wrap up their garbage in additional garbage bags. I think I know exactly the thin bags that were described:

“This was a difference. In Austria it is not so common to have so many plastic bags and in Jihlava we saw there was more redundant use. For example, there was a case of a mysterious banana peel that was wrapped, by itself, in one little plastic bag, then in another and still another! So this was a little different!”

Photo: The town of Jihlava