More than 3 billion people have poor or inadequate diets while 33-40% of produced food does not reach the consumers' plates. Fruits and vegetables are high in essential micronutrients and their low consumption is a major obstacle to achieving healthy diets globally. Loss and waste exacerbate this nutrient gap as wastage of nutrient-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, dairy and seafood which are highly perishable and prone to pests and diseases.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food loss generally occurs upstream with "the decrease in edible food mass at the production, post-harvest, and processing stages of the food chain.” On the other hand, food waste is associated with the discarding of edible foods at the distribution, retail and consumer levels. Food loss and waste not only constitute reduced income for farmers, processors and traders but also contribute to food and nutritional insecurity, significantly increasing the environmental cost of food production.
According to estimates, the global food system, including food loss and waste (FLW), generated 17.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (measured in carbon dioxide equivalents, GtCO2eq) in 2018, which represents more than a third (35%) of global emissions (Global Nutrition Report, 2021). Moreover, FLW burdens waste management systems, and increases food insecurity, making it a major contributor to the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution. (UNEP Food Waste Index, 2021). Recent reports have also shown that household per capita food waste generation is found to be broadly similar across country income groups, suggesting that action on food waste is equally relevant in high, upper‑middle and lower‑middle income countries. This diverges from earlier narratives concentrating consumer food waste in developed countries, and food production, storage and transportation losses in developing countries (WWF, 2021; UNEP Food Waste Index, 2021). Reducing FLW by 50% would potentially increase food availability by 1,300 trillion kilocalories per year by 2050, corresponding to 22% of the estimated crop production increases required to meet demand in 2050 (Chen et al, 2020). Thus, tackling food loss and waste supports the four dimensions of food security by ensuring greater volumes and variations of healthy foods make it to the market while conserving key resources.
DRIVERS OF FOOD LOSS AND WASTE
There are many drivers of food losses and waste which can operate at all points – from production to food transformation, storage, transport, retail, and the home. In addition, consumer perceptions, behaviour and practices may differ markedly between rural and urban environments, socio-economic status, and different religious and cultural norms. Some important factors – such as knowledge and skills of how best to preserve nutrients in food – may be cross-cutting and relevant through different parts of food value chains (GLOPAN, 2018).
The nutritional status of most vulnerable people was negatively affected by the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Broken global supply further exacerbated the situation by hampering the four dimensions of food security. Under normal circumstances, small-scale producers in traditional markets mainly in developing countries faced immense challenges with a lack of roads and cooling infrastructure and technologies. During lockdowns, their reduced access to markets exacerbated their situation leading to increased organic waste more so in urban areas. Now as the world gradually reopens local and international markets, the availability, safety and disposal of essential and non-essential foods remain a focus area.
THE WAY FORWARD
While FLW has been dubbed a wicked problem (a complex social issue without a myriad of solutions), innovative approaches by various actors are gaining traction. In 2016, France became one of the first countries worldwide to ban the destruction of unsold food and thus supermarkets were compelled to donate. Similarly, in 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the "Clean Plate" campaign to reduce food waste and attempt to reform consumer behaviour. In April 2021, lawmakers enacted a national anti-food waste law to help guarantee grain security, conserve resources, and protect the environment targeting the catering industry, the greatest food waste contributor in China. Voluntary agreements like the Courtauld Commitment in the United Kingdom that enable collaboration along supply chains are on the rise and being replicated in the United States in the Pacific Coast Collaborative. Indonesia is leading a national initiative to revitalise traditional markets across the country to influence consumers against over-purchasing which contributes to food waste.
To mark the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste 2022, Nutrition Connect brought together five leading experts and practitioners to learn more about the impacts of food loss and waste on nutrition, food security and climate. They reflected on the current state of play and offer examples of ongoing initiatives and propose ways in which stakeholders can tackle this complex issue.
Zachary Tofias of C40 Cities shares examples of cities making significant changes in their operations:
Milan, Italy has developed a series of local food waste hubs to recover food from retailers and food service operators and redistribute them through organisations supporting those in need.
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.
London is taking a systemic approach to address the root causes of the food waste problem and engaging all key stakeholders in the food system to catalyse and oversee the city's transition to a low-carbon circular economy.
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.
Charity-led organisations and companies like WeFood (Denmark), TooGoodToGo (UK) and Ereogo (UAE) are allowing consumers to purchase surplus restaurant food and soon-to-expire groceries at competitive prices. Food banking is also gaining popularity with food start-ups like Chowberry (Nigeria) partnering with retailers and NGOs to ensure that good food is donated to those in need through mobile apps thus reducing hunger in local communities. Many similar apps and initiatives are emerging all over the world such as Yo Waste in Uganda, Olio in Mexico, and the Robin Hood Army in India. Though national and local policies and regulations will be required to ensure food safety and provide liability protections for food donors like in the United States and Italy.
Pete Pearson from WWF identified three opportunities in addressing food loss and waste. First, building effective markets and alternative market channels like food banks to ensure that food goes to its highest use-nourishing people. Food banking is an excellent alternative outside the formal supply chain that strengthens food security and will support policy frameworks. Second, by channelling investments to safe food recovery solutions and curbing organic waste landfills, we will reap the benefits of improved soil health, nutritious diets, and natural gas and animal feed production. Third, governments need to commit to SDG 12.3 of halving their food loss and waste along production and supply chains by 2030 as part of their climate reduction goals.
Dr Liz Goodwin from WRI Food Loss and Waste Program, sees the Champions 12.3 coalition as a vital mechanism to assess global progress. This year, Champions 12.3 coalition will release a guide on current best practices for institutions keen on influencing consumer behaviour change.
"It is key for sustainability and scalability of an innovation to consider the local context of the private sector companies in the countries they operate in. There are many innovative small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that work in a very challenging environment. Technical assistance in the private sector will help SMEs in addressing some of these issues" as Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition's (GAIN) Charlotte Pedersen observed while planning and implementing the Access to Better Dairy Project in Ethiopia. .
"There are so many innovative SMEs all over the world that are addressing our most pressing issues. Unfortunately, in LMICs many of these SMEs lack access to the technical support and financial assistance that is critical during the early stages of business development. Through PLAN, Marketplace for Nutritious Foods and SUN Business Network, GAIN has supported 1000s of SMEs that produce, process, and sell nutritious foods." says Teale Yalch, Marketplace for Nutritious Food and Postharvest Loss programmes (PLAN) former Lead at GAIN. Their newest initiative, the Nutritious Food Financing Facility (N3F), will support innovative SMEs to scale their business models and make a real contribution to nutrition, food safety and the environment.
Experts concur that governments need to provide conducive environments for private actors to operate. Apart from the guiding policy frameworks, infrastructure investments like road networks and electricity are critical in ensuring smooth production and supply chain operations. Cold chain storage solutions are significantly impacting food security by ensuring safe and nutritious foods reach consumers. They preserve farm produce which helps increase producers' incomes by 50 % while ensuring that highly perishable nutrition-dense foods reach markets (BFA Global)
For us to adequately address the combined threats of micronutrient deficiencies, undernutrition and obesogenic diets, tackling food loss and waste along the agricultural and seafood value chains will be imperative. Public-private engagements can make a difference in food loss and waste movement with the following steps:
Engage key new and past stakeholders, spanning from academic, food & nutrition practitioners, businesses, and policymakers.
Contribute to the public-private dialogue on the importance of addressing food loss and waste while linking it to sustainable and nutritious diets.
There's a need to close the knowledge and data gaps on losses and waste. Building evidence on the subject will enable policymakers to make informed decisions and strengthen capacity, especially in LMICS where data remains a major barrier. Moreover, more data means increased standardisation and adaptation of solutions.
Improving public and private infrastructure for well-functions and efficient food systems
- In Focus: Championing Public Private Partnerships to Reduce Food Loss and Waste with Dr. Liz Goodwin (WRI)
- In Focus: Investing in evidence-driven actions are key to addressing food loss and waste with Pete Pearson ( WWF)
- In Focus: Cities leading in food loss and waste reduction with Zachary Tofias (C40 Cities)
- In Focus: Innovation and Alliances in reducing post harvest losses of nutritious foods with Teale Yalch (GAIN)
- In Focus: Taking the Waste to Value Approach to the Dairy Sector in Ethiopia with Charlotte Pedersen (GAIN)
- GLOPAN (2018) Preventing Nutrient Loss across the Food Systems: Policy Actions for High Quality Diets
- WWF UK and Tesco (2021) Driven to Waste: The Global Impact Food Loss and Waste on Farms
- Global Nutrition Report (2021)
- FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2020. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. Rome, FAO
- Canxi Chen, Abhishek Chaudhary and Alexander Mathys (2020) Nutritional and environmental losses embedded in global food waste. Resources, Conservation & Recycling
- FAO (2022) Gender and Food Loss in Sustainable Fish Value Chains in Africa
- FAO (2020) Mitigating Risks to Food Systems during COVIS-19: Food Loss and Waste
- United Nations Environment Programme (2021). Food Waste Index Report 2021. Nairobi.
- Food & Business Knowledge Platform (2016) Tackling Food Loss: Drivers of Change
- Deloitte (2015): Reducing Food Loss across African Agricultural Value Chains
- GAIN Working Paper No.9: Creating alliances and fostering innovations to reduce post-harvest loss of nutritious food
- GAIN's PLAN (Facebook Watch video)