Food Loss and Waste Series 2022

In Focus: Cities leading in food loss and waste reduction

Our 'In Focus' series sits down with people at the cutting edge of improving nutrition outcomes to understand their perspective, passions and latest projects. Today we talk with Zachary Tofias from C40 Cities.

1. What’s the latest news or recent successes from C40’s initiatives?   

C40 is a network of mayors of nearly 100 world-leading cities collaborating to deliver the urgent action needed right now to confront the climate crisis. Together, we can create a future where everyone, everywhere can thrive. 

What we do today will determine whether or not there is a thriving future for our communities, our cities and the natural world around us. We know that climate breakdown and rising inequality, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, require an unprecedented response to match the scale of the crises. That’s why C40’s mission is to halve the emissions of its member cities within a decade, while improving equity, building resilience, and creating the conditions for everyone, everywhere to thrive. 

Mayors of C40 cities are on the leading edge of climate action, and are deploying a science-based and collaborative approach to help the world limit global heating to 1.5°C and build healthy, equitable and resilient communities. 

I am proud to lead our work on food and waste - where we have a number of recent successes. Over 60 of our member cities are working together in our food and waste networks, striving to make healthy and sustainable food available to all, and working towards a future without waste.

Cities have strong control over many aspects of urban food systems. Our work in this area helps cities to implement solutions that make it easier for people to eat more plant-based options and waste less food. Doing so will help reduce emissions, improve health and equity, and enhance climate resilience around the world. 15 cities have are working to deliver the planetary health diet for all by 2030, and reduce food loss and waste by 50% by 2030, as part of C40’s Good Food Cities Accelerator. You can read more about some of their successes here.  

In addition, waste management is another key area of city powers - Substantial innovation is occurring in the waste sector, as many cities take steps towards a future without waste – prioritizing avoidance of waste generation, by creating sharing libraries and repair facilities, recovering resources through large-scale organics and food waste composting, and only disposing of residual wastes. 

Embracing  a circular approach to materials management can boost innovation, job creation and lead to a much-needed decrease of the use of primary resources, taking responsibility for global impact of local waste management practices. 21 C40 cities committed to the Towards Zero Waste Accelerator, where they are reducing the amount of waste generated by 30%, halving the amount of waste disposed, and diverting at least 70% of waste, all by 2030. You can read more about their accomplishments here.  

In addition, we are working closely with many cities across the global south taking action on waste - especially food waste, including through some work with Global Methane Hub, supporting two cities addressing food waste and organic treatment; and more broadly supporting cities improve their waste management systems in order to make their cities cleaner, more resilient, more equitable, inclusive and reducing methane emissions by improving their capacity to treat organic waste.   

2. The International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste calls for public and private sectors working together to cut food loss and waste, and enhance efficient use of natural resources, mitigate climate change and support food security and nutrition.  How has the network of C40 Cities helped to enhance public-private engagement (PPE) for nutrition?   

  • C40 nominated the Earthshot winning Milan Food Hub model, and have shared this experience across C40’s networks. The success of this project lies in the public private partnership of a wide array of actors that the City of Milan has been able to catalyse and coordinate.  Sharing this project, will help C40 cities to better understand the need of establishing public-private engagement if we want to achieve our goals on food waste reduction. 

  • During the C40 Summit in Buenos Aires, in October 2022, at the City-Business Forum, C40 is featuring a session aimed at showcasing precisely the importance of public/private engagement if we want to succeed in tackling food waste in cities and in ensuring well being and prosperity. Indeed, Cities are already committed and have the levers to drive this change, but they need the private sector to match their level of action and ambition. At the same time, by working with ambitious cities, businesses have the possibility to achieve a real and positive change in a coordinated and systemic way. 

3. What do you see as the key to partnerships between private entities and local governments, in reducing food waste and improving urban nutrition? How has this work changed your mind or surprised you?    

  • Mayors and cities can do many things, but they can’t do it alone - key opportunity is collaboration. We need to address this issue from a systematic perspective; cities are uniquely positioned to successfully activate and lead the kind of wide partnerships needed  

  • We have a lot to do, but there are great organizations out there doing good work - like Champions 12.3, NRDC, WRAP, REFED, and others who are working to come up with business models that deliver results. 

4. C40 has 97 member cities, that’s nearly a fifth of the global economy, committed to delivering urgent action to tackle climate crisis. Which cities can we learn the most from, that are making progress in tackling food waste and improving urban nutrition?    

There are so many great examples - from both global north and global south: 

  • Milan - Earthshot winning Food Hub model: Milan won the inaugural EarthShot prize in the "Waste Free World" category for their Food Waste Hubs. The program addresses businesses throwing out surplus food and as an opportunity to feed hungry residents.  Milan developed a series of local food waste hubs to recover food from retailers and food service operators and redistribute them through organizations supporting those in need. This is part of an effort to reduce food insecurity, make sure no edible food loss is wasted and cut food waste in half by 2030 - a central component of the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration, which Milan led the creation of. Four local food waste hubs are active and by the time this is published, another will be opened! Ten tons per month for each hub are recovered, corresponding to 154,000 meals equivalent per year. The Hub experience was also very important in leading a prompt response for food aid during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in   2020. Due to the need to reduce food insecurity in the city during the pandemic, ten additional temporary hubs were created.  
  • Sao Paulo: Organic waste represents one half of total municipal solid waste generation in São Paulo. Since 2015, the city of São Paulo has run the Sustainable Food Markets initiative, designed to collect and recover organic waste from municipal food markets via a network of decentralised composting sites. Five composting sites have been delivered to date, with a combined capacity to process food waste from 20% of São Paulo’s food markets. City authorities aim to expand the network of decentralised composting 44 sites so that they cover the total volume of organics generated in municipal street markets, diverting an estimated 500,000 tonnes of organic waste from landfill each year. 

  • Accra: Formalising the informal sector: The city dramatically revised its relationship with informal waste collectors, by recognising them as part of municipal waste operations and incentivizing small entrepreneurship. Through formalizing the positions of 850 workers, the city managed to increase waste collection by 10%, especially in low-income areas, where dumping and burning has been common. Registered waste collectors collect waste using small motorised tricycles within assigned areas, and then take the collected waste to newly conditioned transfer stations where recyclables are sorted out before residual waste is transported to the disposal sites. This is creating better recovery values for the recycling workers that was previously being diluted by small scale and multiple middle-men, leading to better working and living conditions for these essential workers. 

  • London: The most innovative aspect of London's food waste policies is its systemic approach to address the root causes of the problem and work collaboratively with all key stakeholders in the food system to catalyse and oversee London’s transition to a low carbon circular economy for food. The initiative is delivering interventions and evidence-based policies to reduce consumption-based emissions from food and bringing together a consortium of public and private stakeholders to implement pioneering circular food system solutions.The initiatives involving households, retail and wholesale, Hotels/Retail/Caterers and the food supply chain have achieved a direct measured food waste reduction of 5,500 tonnes and an indirect reduction of more than 28,000 tonnes per year. 

  • Washington DC: has ambitious goals for reducing food waste and its economic and climate impact: Sustainable DC 2.0, DC’s sustainability plan, targets reducing food waste by 60% and overall waste by 80% by 2032. The 2020 Zero Waste Omnibus Act requires large food businesses to donate edible food and compost food scraps and it opens the door for requirements for small businesses. In 2021, DC launched the Food Waste Innovation Grants, a competitive grant program to fund small business food waste interventions. The program offers businesses free food waste assessments to assess what interventions could best help the business reduce food waste. Through these assessments, they are also training DC’s food business technical assistance providers to incorporate food waste as a core part of business operations. 

5. In light of the challenges posed by COVID-19 for food security and nutrition, how can we continue to promote food safety in urban areas, given that a lot of nutritionally dense foods are highly perishable?    

COVID showed some really great examples of how cities can support those in need. They did this in part by shortening supply chains and using the powers of procurement, including by creating urban rural linkages - supporting CSA style models of support; how cities used non-traditional city resources (ie libraries); and school feeding programs, like we’ve seen in Addis Ababa - where they’re providing food safety and security to 450,000 students. 

6. The UN SDG 12, aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and “by year 2030, to 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”. Informal retailers play a key role in urban areas, especially in low and middle-income countries where in most cases women run these businesses. From your experience, how best do you see public & private actors empowering them to be better catalysts for achieving this common goal?    

Informal food vendors have to be considered and involved in many cities of low and middle-income countries to gain a systemic approach. Again, I see the need for an alliance among cities and the private sector that can support by providing proper training to foster food safety and to reduce food waste. After the Covid shock and the current food crisis that we are experiencing we all should work to promote new good food jobs in cities that can provide a just income, in particular for the most vulnerable ones.   

7. What is the one thing about food loss and waste that you wish everyone knew or understood better?   

1 kg of food waste  has the same global warming potential as 1 liter of petrol burned (due to the powerful global warming potential of methane, which is created when food waste breaks down without air (ie in a dump). 

8. Tell us about your favourite meal.  

Mmm. My first job with the Clinton Foundation/C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group was in 2007 as City Director in Addis Ababa, and I absolutely fell in love with the Ethiopian vegetarian combination platter! Plant-based deliciousness! 



Zachary Tofias serves as the Director of the Food and Waste Programme at C40. His work supports C40 cities’ transition toward regenerative resource management and reducing emissions through more sustainable consumption. The Food and Waste Programme is helping cities accelerate a worldwide transition to more effective municipal solid waste management, and the implementation of comprehensive solutions that reduce carbon emissions and increase resiliency throughout the urban food system.

Zach has been with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group since 2007 in partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative. Over the course of this time, he has been City Director in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, created and led the Climate Positive Development Programme, was the head of Urban Planning and Development, and recently was the Interim Director of Adaptation.

Since 2007, Zach has worked around the world with leading cities and the private sector on developing locally relevant solutions for replicable models of making cities more sustainable. Zach has a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Cornell University and a Bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College.