Food waste has long been a social outrage unleashing collective consciences over the great divide between the North and the Global South in accessing nutritious food. Food lost along the entire supply chain causes serious environmental, economic and social impacts. Attempting to propose solutions to limit the vast amounts of wasted food, Edenred and Toute l’Europe hosted a Policies & Practices webinar entitled “Exploring food waste reduction potential and return on investment”, triggering the discussion on this urgent topic, which is reflected in the United Nations 2030 agenda, under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
1. A complex problem: 86 million tonnes of wasted food
In the European Union alone, around 86 million tonnes of food, the equivalent of 173 kg per person, are wasted each year in the EU along the food value chain, which represents about 20% of all food produced. Wasting food means losing not only life-supporting nutrition, but also consuming scarce resources like land, water and energy that were expended in the production, processing and distribution of food.
When asked what’s the major reference when talking about KPIs for food waste and loss, Thomas Candeal, Project Manager at the International Food Waste Coalition, said: “Food waste per capita, that’s pretty clear, but depending on the context you’re acting in, you either focus on ecological saving or more on the financial aspect and benefit of food waste reduction”.
Presenting the complexities inherent to food loss and waste, Oksana Sapiga, Communication and Partnerships Specialist, Food Loss and Waste Reduction programme in Europe and Central Asia for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) described how this global problem affects the environment and contributes to climate change. This phenomenon also impacts overall access to food and its quality and nutritional value. Sapiga pointed out to the economic impact of food waste too, which can end up harming businesses.
“The public sector and governments should revise and improve the statistics and regulatory framework in order to create an enabling environment for other stakeholders to act”, urged Sapiga, noting that such actions should encourage and facilitate investment by the private sector in particular.
Sapiga considers that the private sector is “perfectly positioned to change the way food is produced and distributed” by changing business models or introducing new business models. As for Katerina Antanevich, Assistant liaison officer at the FAO: “Food waste can be seen as a medium through which to engage consumers in otherwise often complex and distant sustainability agendas”.
2. Integrated approach and cooperation
Taking into account an integrated approach to limit food loss and waste, Sapiga maintained the need to have an integrated and inclusive approach. She welcomed the efforts from academia and scientists in putting forward studies and figures that serve as reference when talking about food waste. “Collaborative action is at the core of measures to tackle food loss and waste reduction”, observed Sapiga, insisting on the importance of private and public sector joining forces to address this complex global challenge.
As part of the multi-disciplinary programme identified by Sapiga, policies, partnerships, technical assistance, awareness and behavior are the key elements to start reverting the food loss and waste tendence. “All these elements are equally important and they all contribute to creating the right environment for each and every stakeholder to take action”, stated Sapiga.
Cooperation of policy makers, private sector and consumers is vital to design the decision-making process and buying experience for the consumer to make the choices to reduce and prevent food waste.Katerina Antanevich, Assistant liaison officer at the FAO
3. Consumer behavior
Overall, the panelists agreed that dealing with a challenge with a global scale requires a new system designed to reduce food waste. “Cooperative action of different stakeholders is vital but behind each stakeholder we see a consumer. Consumers are at the heart of the food system“, stressed Katerina Antanevich.
According to a recent study from WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action programme, groups that are most likely to identify with high quantities of food waste are aged between 18-34, with younger children at home, those who follow a specific diet and those who have eaten more than 10 meals outside their houses in a single month. Antanevich illustrated how changing habits is a long-term endeavor, however, food retailers and policies can have a crucial role in educating consumers to cut household food waste.
“Cooperation of policy makers, private sector and consumers is vital to design the decision-making process and buying experience for the consumer to make the choices to reduce and prevent food waste”, she said.
Addressing ways to educate the new consumer, Antanevich referred to the FAO’s campaign “Do Good: Save Food”, which seeks to raise awareness on this scourge while providing useful tips for more sustainable choices, a crucial step empowering consumers and in line with the circular economy.
4. Employer behavior
Nora Brüggemann, Project Manager at the Collaborating Center on sustainable consumption and production (CSCP), presented some training actions on Food loss and waste organized in companies for their employees, and stressed that a year after the specific trainings, she was enthusiast to see that “employees still remember the topics shared with them, they also act as Ambassadors within their company” and therefore “employee engagement and training is surely one way to really motivate citizens on this issue of food loss prevention”.
Thomas Candeal also highlighted that employee in food business can be easily motivated on this issue depending on the degree of commitment of the company itself: “as an employee in the food business, if you see that your company is engaged in food loss prevention, it will be easier for you to get ideas and to come with initiatives and proposals to reduce food loss in the daily operations. If you don’t feel supported by your hierarchy, it would be much harder”.
5. Hospitality and food service
Representing the hospitality and food service sector, Candeal described it as “key to address this challenge” since it represents 12% of the food loss and waste in Europe. At a global level, this figure goes up to 26%. Explaining the weight of the food and catering sector, Candeal highlighted that one company alone can serve billions of meals every year worldwide. Thus, one company alone can make the difference.
“Food waste reduction ultimately comes from a change in culture and habits”, Candeal said, while pointing at the importance of building collaborative partnerships and relationships with suppliers and consumers or customers. This dynamic is at the heart of a functional circular economy, an environmental flagship of the EU that goes hand-in-hand with the Farm to Fork Strategy, an attempt to improve food systems.
So, what progress has the industry done so far in addressing food waste? Overall, all panelists agreed on the difficulty to have accurate numbers to measure progress since there are no standardization processes across stakeholders. Yet, Candeal revealed that the companies working with the International Food Waste Coalition are “working hard to make that change and to be able to accurately report” towards the SDGs, namely the number 12.3.
The SDG number 12.3, specifically addressing food waste, sets that by 2030, food waste will be halved per capita at the retail and consumer levels. The UN also wants to reduce losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.
6. A German perspective
Nora brought to the discussion the German perspective, which has in place a national strategy to reduce food waste. The strategy is divided into five dialogues addressing different stages of food loss: primary production, processing, wholesale and retail, out-of-home catering and finally, private households.
We are all telling the same story and it fits together greatly.Nora Brüggemann, Project Manager at CSCP
In particular, under the wholesale and retail dialogue, Brüggemann said, goals and tasks were created as part of a voluntary agreement that will address the SDG 12.3 and develop a self-committing target agreement for the period 2022-2030, to support the implementation of the UN targets.
“There’s a high commitment and numerous important measures already being implemented”, observed Brüggemann.
Concluding the event, it was clear that a system is still evolving when it comes to measuring progress tackling food waste. Still, in spite of the different KPIs on food waste on the SDGs, and throughout fragmented national strategies, work is in progress to address food loss globally and consumer behavior has a crucial role in this battle.