Can We Really Cut Food Waste in Half?


January 31, 2017

Food WasteIt was disappointing to see recent figures from the United Kingdom showing that household food waste is on the rise again (although per capita waste is still roughly constant). The United Kingdom became a world leader in curbing food waste when, from 2007 to 2012, its households cut the amount of edible food they threw away by 21%. This was the result of a government-funded initiative that combined a consumer-facing campaign and a voluntary agreement involving major retailers and brands to help consumers reduce household food waste. But since 2012, progress has stalled, and it now looks as though waste might start going back up. 

In addition, the European Union Court of Auditors released a report earlier this month that found approximately 88 million tons of food are still lost or wasted in the European Union each year. Perhaps even more concerning is that with no further action, that figure is expected to rise to 126 million tons by 2020. 

These figures raise the question of how achievable a reduction of 50% might be—which is what the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3 aims for, and what the European Parliament is considering as a target as well. Looking at the analysis available, I remain convinced that we can achieve a 50% reduction in food waste, despite this recent slowing of progress. 

How Do We Get There?
First, we need to understand where the 50% reduction will come from. Analysis by the U.K.-based charity WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Program) suggests that it’s going to be a combination of things that get us to 50% less waste, including: 

  • Most households change their food buying, use, and waste behaviors to what the “best in class” households do today. This includes better planning, such as writing a shopping list and planning meals in advance; a better understanding of date labels, such as the differences between labels like “sell by” and “use by;” and better skills in terms of cooking, portion sizes, and using up leftovers. 
  • Retailers and brands improve pack sizes and flexibility. This can mean packs with a single portion, and packs that can be split for use on more than one occasion. 
  • Retailers and brands improve guidance on storage and offer tips on use of food and leftovers. 
  • Technical advances ensure food can be kept for longer. This can include elements like modified air content within a pack to help food last longer, or sealing and re-sealing technologies. 
Additionally, this analysis only considers those parts of the world where most food is lost or wasted toward the consumer end of the supply chain. In other parts of the world where more food is lost closer to the farm or market due to damage during storage or distribution, different interventions will be needed. 

We mustn’t be put off by the disappointing figures from the United Kingdom and Europe. These numbers just show how much progress still needs to be made, and what opportunity remains. We must continue to push ahead and try to reduce food waste through every avenue possible.

This is excerpted from the original blog post available on the World Resources Institute website.

Liz GoodwinLiz Goodwin (liz.goodwin@wri.org)
Senior Fellow and Director, Food Loss and Waste
World Resources Institute

Brian Lipinski also contributed to this blog



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