Toolkit: Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint

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One-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted from farm to fork, according to estimates calculated by FAO (2011). This wastage not only has an enormous negative impact on the global economy and food availability, it also has major environmental impacts. The direct economic cost of food wastage of agricultural products (excluding fish and seafood), based on producer prices only, is about 750 billion USD, equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland.

The aim of the Toolkit is to showcase concrete examples of good practices for food loss and waste reduction, while pointing to information sources, guidelines and pledges favoring food wastage reduction. The inspirational examples featured throughout this Toolkit demonstrate that everyone, from individual households and producers, through governments, to large food industries, can make choices that will ultimately lead to sustainable consumption and production patterns, and thus, a better world for all.

In recent years, food waste has become a widely-recognized global shame. A number of campaign groups have coalesced around the issue, pushing it further up the public agenda, while various governments have adopted policies to address the problem and companies have made pledges to reduce food wastage and, in some cases, measurable improvements have been made. However, while legislation and policies have been generated in many countries to incentivize better food waste management, such as through avoidance of landfill, this should be distinguished from pre-waste solutions aiming to actually reduce food wastage.

Although initiatives to reduce food wastage certainly deserve support, there is also chance that some may have unintended social, economic and/or environmental impacts. One aim of this Toolkit is to present different best practices and tips for reducing food wastage, looking specifically at the often overlooked cost of wastage in terms of natural resource use and, in turn, the environmental benefits of reducing that wastage.

The Toolkit classifies food waste reduction strategies according to the categories of the inverted ‘food waste pyramid’, which represents the most to the least environmentally friendly categories.

Reduce. As the impact of food production on natural resources is enormous and increases while the food progresses on the food value chain, reducing food wastage is by far the best way of reducing the waste of natural resources. For example, if the supply-demand balance can be better adjusted on the front end, it means not using the natural resources to produce the food in the first place, thus avoiding pressure on natural resources, or using them for other purposes.

Reuse. In the event a food surplus is produced, the best option is to keep it in the human food chain. This may call for finding secondary markets or donating it to feed vulnerable members of society, so that it conserves its original purpose and prevents the use of additional resources to grow more food. If the food is not fit for human consumption, the next best option is to divert it for livestock feed, thus conserving resources that would otherwise be used to produce commercial feedstuff.

Recycle/Recover. The main recycling and recovering options are by-product recycling, anaerobic digestion, composting, incineration with energy recovery and rendering. All these options allow energy or nutrients to be recovered, thus representing a significant advantage over landfill.

Landfill. Landfilling organic waste causes emission of gases such as methane (a very potent greenhouse gas) and potentially pollutes soil and water, let alone odour and other societal nuisance. Landfills should be the last resort option for food waste management, especially in a context of increased land scarcity for Earth citizens. This toolkit explains each of these categories in more detail, along with good practices around the world.

Nadia El-Hage Scialabba
Mathilde Iweins
Gaia Pisani