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Tokyo Olympic organizers keen to tackle big problem of food waste

As the world looks ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in three years' time, the organizing committee has commenced serious discussions on how to reduce food waste during the two events.

The global issue of food waste is a serious one. As one might imagine, an international tournament on the scale of the Olympics -- during which about 15 million meals are provided -- results in a considerable amount of food being wasted.

Therefore, with this in mind, the 2020 organizing committee is hoping to implement effective measures to tackle the problem, and if successful, the measures would represent a historical milestone. Looking ahead to 2020, will the organizers be able to build on the "Mottainai" waste-tackling philosophy of the late Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai?

Yuko Sakita, head of a resource management working group within the organizing committee and president of the nonprofit organization Genki Net -- which aims to create a sustainabale society -- explains that, "At previous Olympics and Paralympics in London and Rio, the issue of food waste was not dealt with well. If we try to tackle the problem in 2020, then that would result in Tokyo achieving a huge legacy."

According to an investigation conducted by Sakita, there were 2,443 tons of food waste during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London. It is thought that 21 percent of that amount was food that had become rotten during storage, 34 percent was leftovers, and 45 percent was food thrown away during preparation. It is believed that measures for tackling food waste in 2012 were insufficient due to the complexity of the Olympics and Paralympics.

In particular, dealing with food waste in the Olympic Village, where 2 million meals will be provided during the Games, represents a huge challenge. The athletes' village is under pressure to deliver meals without delay. Furthermore, there are athletes from over 200 countries and regions in the village, with a variety of food requests. Taking food hygiene into consideration, it is not permitted to serve food that has been ready for more than two hours. As a result, this leads to an increase in the amount of leftovers.

During working group discussions so far, the appropriate procurement and storage of ingredients, as well as how to prevent excessive food preparation have emerged as key areas on which to base future measures. In addition, Sakita has proposed using electronic IC tags while storing food in order to reduce waste. Other suggestions include delivering excess food to "food banks" to be consumed by people who are struggling to find enough food due to financial reasons. Furthermore, there were other ideas such as recycling food leftovers into fertilizer or fodder.

However, reducing food waste will not be an easy task. As a member of the organizing committee points out, "The most important thing in the athletes' minds is competing in their events. It is difficult to know how far we can raise athletes' awareness about food waste during the events."

In order to reduce food waste in 2020, it is essential to gain the athletes' understanding as well.

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