‘If we decided it was our goal to reduce food waste, we’d do it’

Food waste in Iceland is not only a climate problem, says Minister for the Environment Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, it’s also disrespectful. The Minister says the Icelandic public needs to completely change its attitude towards this serious problem, and more creative solutions need to be considered to deal with it. RÚV reports.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that a third of the world’s food is thrown away. Food waste has long been a major topic of concern in Iceland; the Environment Agency in Iceland has found that 7 out of 10 Icelanders say they want to do their part to reduce food waste. Moreover, reducing food waste is one of the major prongs of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources’ national policy on waste, which is in effect from 2016-2027. The policy is underpinned by the “ideology of the circular economy, where the priority is to reduce the creation of waste and thereby decrease the demand for finite natural resources.”

But although food waste was the first of nine focal points that this policy targeted from 2016-2017, thus far, there’s been little observable change in the actual amount of food wasted in the country over the years.


Iceland’s National Policy on Waste Timeline, 2016-2027; via the Environment Agency of Iceland

Guðlaugur Þór says it’s hard to legislate controls or punishments related to food wastage. What’s really needed, therefore, is a complete attitude shift amongst consumers, retailers, and producers—the whole chain must stand together, he says. It’s a matter of public will above all else.

“We Icelanders can be very quick to adapt to anything and everything, so if we decided it was our goal to reduce food waste, we’d do it.”

The Environment Agency’s website, Together Against Waste, is part of broader awareness-raising campaigns and includes many suggestions for ways in which individuals can do their part to reduce food waste, from taking a picture of what you have in the fridge before you go grocery shopping to cooking from leftovers to “using your nose” to determine if food is still good after its “Best By” date has passed.

One creative solution that has been suggested to aid in food waste reduction is to open stores that specifically sell food items that are approaching their “Sell By” dates.

However the issue is addressed, addressed it must be, says the minister. “One third of all food [in the world] is thrown away,” concludes Guðlaugur Þór. “We can all see that that’s unacceptable.”

Infrastructure Development in New Nature Reserves

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson and Birkir Jón Jónsson by Dynjandi waterfall.

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has allocated 140 million ISK ($1,102,535, €893,712) to emergency operations and infrastructure development in areas that were declared nature conserves in 2020.

Wooden platforms will be constructed in the Geysir geothermal area, which was declared a nature conserve last summer, as well as gravel paths and an observation platform. Infrastructure in Kerlingarfjöll will also be built, as the area is on a red list due to tourist onslaught and at risk of losing its characteristics that led to it being protected. The strain is most visible in Neðri Hveravellir where a lack of control and infrastructure leaves the unique geothermal area and delicate clay soil unprotected. Walking platforms will be constructed to protect sinter and the hot spring clay from desire paths and foot traffic.

A pedestrian bridge will be constructed on the 5 km hiking path from Ásgarður to Hveradalir. This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the area but Ásgarðsá river can be deep and fast-flowing and can prove a hindrance to people who don’t want to wade across it. The project leaders also suggest the work will be done in the vicinity of Búrfell and Búrfell canyon, where another popular hiking trail is straining its environment. The delicate flora in the area is liable for damage because of foot traffic. Additional projects include informational signs by Goðafoss waterfall, infrastructure by Háifoss waterfall in Þjórsárdalur and research into whether further infrastructure is needed by Gjáin and Hjálparfoss.

“Nature reserves are important to protect the natural and cultural value of the land for the next generations. By conserving areas, an additional attraction is created that can be helpful to create jobs in rural areas,” stated Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. “I’ve focused on directing infrastructure funds to newly conserved areas and to deal with issues as soon as they arise. In 2020, eight locations became conserved areas and in many, improvements are needed to make sure nature is receiving the benefit of the doubt.”

Efforts Underway to Stop Oil Leakage from Sunken Tanker

The government is taking steps to prevent further leakage from the El Grillo oil tanker, RÚV reports. The British ship was sunk just off the coast of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland during a German air raid in February 1944 and oil began leaking into the bay shortly after that.

On Friday morning, the government approved Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson’s request for ISK 38 million ($264,000/€243,000) to seal the ruptured hull of the ship and prevent further leakage. Efforts were made to pump oil from El Grillo in 1952 and 2001, but the leaking has continued intermittently.

See Also: Sunk British WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil in Seyðisfjörður

Oil leakage from the sunken tanker became a problem again last summer. An investigation was launched and Coast Guard divers discovered that the ship’s hull had corroded. Per the government’s decision this morning, the breach will be filled with concrete to prevent further leakage. A valve will be fitted in the concrete so that, if necessary, oil can be pumped from the ship in the future.

The plan is to fill in the hole in El Grillo’s hull this spring, before the sea warms and the oil begins leaking again.

Aim to Close 2,500-Year-Old Cave in North Iceland

cave Iceland

Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson has asked the Environment Agency to close eight caves to protect them from damage, including an untouched 2,500-year-old cave that was recently discovered in Northeast Iceland. RÚV reports that the Minister hopes to eventually designate the caves as protected areas, though the process may take some time.

A unique cave

Þeystareykir is a geothermal area located in Þingeyjarsveit, Northeast Iceland. Þeystareykjahraun lava field is known to have caves, many of which remain unexplored. Around two years ago, members of the Icelandic Speleological Society discovered a 2,500-year-old cave in the area with an impressive display of stalactites and stalagmites. Guðni Gunnarsson, the society’s director, told RÚV the sheer amount and size of the formations make the cave unique on a global scale. He says protecting the cave is necessary in order to avoid damage, as has happened in Leiðarendi cave near Hafnarfjörður, where almost all the stalagmites have been broken.

Call on National Power Company to protect area

In late 2017, the National Power Company of Iceland (Landsvirkjun) activated a geothermal power station in the lava field. A road was built to the power station which lies very close to the cave, increasing traffic in the area. The Speleological Society has criticised the company for putting up signs that draw attention to the stalagmite caves in the area, encouraging visitors to seek them out and thus putting the caves at risk of damage. The National Power Company has stated it did not know about the caves when the road was built.

Minister intervenes

Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson has requested the Environment Agency close four caves in Þeystareykjahraun and four in other parts of the country in order to protect them from damage. Three caves in the country have previously been protected by installing locked gates at their entrances to restrict entry.

Stalagmites are “protected natural monuments” according to Icelandic conservation laws.

Stricter Regulations on Marine Fuel Proposed

overfishing iceland

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has published an amended draft to the current regulations on the Sulphur content of liquid fuels. RÚV reports that if these amendments are adopted, the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) would be prohibited within Icelandic territorial waters starting at the beginning of next year.

Heavy Fuel Oil is “the generic term [that] describes fuels used to generate motion and/or fuels to generate heat that have a particularly high viscosity and density.” HFOs “are mainly used as marine fuel, and HFO is the most widely used marine fuel at this time; virtually all medium and low-speed marine diesel engines are designed for heavy fuel oil.”

About 22% of the marine fuel sold in Iceland in 2016 was HFO; it is used by some Icelandic fishing vessels. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the pollution from cruise ships, which run on HFO, and according to current Icelandic law, the use of such fuel is prohibited when a cruise ship is docked at an Icelandic port.

The current law, which went into effect in 2015, allows for the Sulphur content in marine fuel used within Icelandic territorial waters to be up to 3.5%. If the amendments go into effect, this percentage would go down to .1%. This is lower than the updated Sulphur pollution regulations that are outlined in the revised International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships agreement, or MARPOL Annex VI. Per the revised regulations, which go into effect on January 1, 2020, cosignatories to the agreement, including Iceland, will not be allowed to use marine fuel that has a Sulphur content that is higher than .5%.

If Iceland puts a stricter Sulphur content limit in place, ships using a higher percentage fuel would need to employ approved methods of reducing their Sulphur Dioxide emissions while within Icelandic territorial waters. A .1% Sulphur limit would, however, be in accordance with restrictions already in place in the so-called ECA areas in the Baltic and North Seas.