The staggering statistics around food loss and waste (FLW), from field to consumer, highlight the need for us all to do what we can. Every business and individual – whether food focused or not – should include FLW in their green recovery plans.
…the entire food supply chain is in desperate need of an overhaul to prevent unnecessary food loss and waste (FLW)
It is estimated that more than one sixth of all food grown is either lost or wasted and yet people all over the world still go hungry. Food waste is responsible for 15% of total anthropogenic carbon emissions and is a key driver of climate change. Over a quarter of the world’s agricultural land is used to produce food that is ultimately wasted. Additionally, because food has such high moisture content, it can create toxic dioxins when incinerated. When dumped, food waste is known to cause both health and environmental issues.1
“With less than 10 years to go until the 2030 deadline of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we must act now to tackle food loss and waste. It is a global problem, and we all have a role to play in helping to make the food system more sustainable. The societal, economic and environmental benefits of reducing food loss and waste are immense and well worth driving for.” Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director, Food Loss and Waste, World Resources Institute.
From in-field pest control and harvesting damage, transport and storage losses, food production, food services, and consumer waste, the entire food supply chain is in desperate need of an overhaul to prevent unnecessary food loss and waste (FLW). Alongside other climate change and environmental sustainability measures, a great deal of research into the challenges and solutions around the reduction of FLW and safe and effective disposal methods is urgently needed. And new measures will need buy-in from farmers, food suppliers, manufacturers and consumers alike. We all have a responsibility to help plan and implement a functional, sustainable global food system, from field to factory, from factory to shelf, and from shop shelves all the way into our own mouths – rather than the waste bin!
Measuring food loss and waste (FLW)
…due to the current trend in public participation in action research around environmental causes, now is a good time to embark on such [FLW] initiatives
Reduction targets have been set at the level of the United Nations. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 aims to halve per capita food waste at retail and consumer levels globally by 2030, as well as reduce food losses along production and supply chains.2
“By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.” Target 12.3, Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme (FAO and UNEP)
To standardise how food loss and waste is calculated, these targets will be assessed using the national-level Food Loss Index (FLI). To assist with data collection the FAO provides guidelines and training material on loss data collection and estimation, and a loss imputation model to estimate losses in the absence of measured data. The Food Loss & Waste Protocol [flwprotocol.org] has also developed the global Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard to assist the widespread adoption of the FLW Standard. Using modelled estimates, the percentage of food lost between harvesting and wholesale alone stands at 13.8% globally, amounting to over $400 billion each year.2 In-depth details on how much food is being wasted along the various parts of the supply chain are outlined in the FAO’s open access Food Loss and Waste Database.3 Published a few weeks ago, UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report now presents the most comprehensive food waste data collection, analysis and modelling to date. Providing a new estimate of global food waste, as well as a methodology for countries to measure food waste at household, food service and retail level, it also supports the aims of SDG 12.3.4
According to UNEP, 17% of all food ends up in the trash without being eaten. From landfills it contributes to global warming while straining local government funds. COVID-19 has impacted our food consumption and a ‘build back better’-approach could lock in positive food behaviours and open up opportunities for circular economies.5
Industry buy-in and a call to action
“The only way we can halve food waste by 2030 is if restaurants and other businesses along the supply chain step up their action. Every part of the food industry has a responsibility to reduce food waste.” Dave Lewis, Group Chief Executive of Tesco and Chair of Champions 12.3
It is notable that large food manufacturers such as Unilever are already beginning to adopt new practices and messaging around FLW. Alongside some of the world’s biggest food retailers and providers, Unilever is a member of the Champions 12.3 coalition [champions123.org] which has delivered multiple reports demonstrating that reducing food waste saves money and offers a significant business opportunity. Reduction programmes that include FLW measurement, staff engagement, reductions in overproduction, refreshed inventory and purchasing practices, and repurposing excess foods are being promoted with a call to action to all businesses and individuals.
Framing FLW research – how you can help
With so much research still to be done, it is first necessary to agree the most pressing priorities.
A research team from Sweden and the United Kingdom believes citizen science will be a critical factor towards achieving SDG12.3. The engagement of the public and industry, bringing together stakeholders across the entire food supply chain is a fundamental requirement to begin solving these critical global challenges.
In a review published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, the team pulled together representatives from government, consultancies, third-party operatives and researchers from 26 countries to scope opportunities to answer 26 priority research questions. These looked at both quantifying and understanding FLW and interventions for reducing FLW at both the consumer and supply chain levels. The review highlighted the mutual benefits of developing projects to bring together farmers, scientists and the public in FLW knowledge generation projects using online and crowd-sourcing methods for user-generated ideas and data. Successful projects rely on careful design and implementation, good data protection practices, and governance from institutions that have power and legitimacy to influence food waste. The paper’s authors note that, due to the current trend in public participation in action research around environmental causes, now is a good time to embark on such initiatives.6
We can all reduce household food loss
In 2020, the United Kingdom became the world’s first country to pass the halfway mark to the 2030 goal of a 50% reduction in food loss and waste. But, despite a reduction in post-farm gate loss and waste by 27% there’s still a long way to go. All businesses and individuals can and should include food loss and waste management as part of the overall sustainability mindset. We must all pro-actively help reduce FLW. Here in the UK, 70% of food waste is discarded at home. As individuals, we are responsible for around 77kg of food waste per person per year. So, simply through responsible purchasing and consumption at home, we have the power to work together to reduce UK food loss and waste by more than 5 million tonnes every year.
If you plan to implement a new FLW initiative, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
6 Front. Sustain. Food Syst., 08 December 2020, https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2020.589089