Since the adoption in September 2015 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty and hunger, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, food businesses are increasingly engaged in food loss and waste reduction, with impressive achievements.
On the international level, Lipinski et al. (2016) reported on the progress of Champions 12.3—a cross-sectoral coalition of nearly 40 leaders around the world dedicated to achieving SDG Target 12.3, which calls for halving per capita global food waste and reducing food losses along production and supply chains by 2030. They provided examples of waste reduction accomplishments and detailed what more is needed. They highlighted approaches to reducing food loss and waste across the production-to-consumption food system and identified the following for processing and packaging: reengineering manufacturing processes; improving supply chain management; improving packaging to keep food fresher longer, optimize portion size, and gauge safety; and reprocessing or repackaging food that does not meet specifications. Based on interviews with some stakeholders, they also mentioned the following three areas of need:
• Articulating quantitatively and qualitatively the political and business case for action to help motivate governments and companies to take immediate action
• Increasing financing for food loss and waste reduction technologies, processes, research, and awareness-raising, and making projects investment-ready
• Accelerating capacity building to aid quicker dissemination of best practices, innovation, and knowledge and experience
Successes have been reported by The Consumer Goods Forum—a global industry network of CEOs and senior management of some 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and other stakeholders. Achievements are addressed in a new CGF Food Waste booklet published in October. The booklet highlights multiple examples among 17 companies. In the area of postharvest losses, examples include working with partners to address losses through sustainable agriculture programs with smallholder farmers (Kellogg’s, Unilever). Another area of examples provided is identification and analysis of loss and waste sources for reduction opportunities, which included mention of the following: 1) use of Lean Six Sigma tools to help identify sources and plan reduction (Mondelēz International), 2) collaboration with a university and monitoring loss and waste along the value chain (Barilla), and 3) use of the global Food Loss and Waste (FL&W) Standard and sharing of best practices among farmers (Nestlé). In the processing-related area, examples include the following: 1) using the entirety of a food commodity (tomatoes) by returning unripe tomatoes, stems, and other plant material during harvest to the soil, redirecting stems and damaged fruit to animal feed or compost, redirecting peels and seeds to pet food ingredients, and sending fruit not meeting size requirements for diced tomatoes to a concentrate production line (Campbell’s) and 2) recovering potato starch lost in the slicing and peeling process for processing into food grade starch for alternative uses (PepsiCo). Regarding packaging, optimizing packaging material and sizes (ICA Sweden) was identified, as well as developing packaging solutions to address temperature abuse and mechanical damage during distribution (IFCO). With respect to facilities, there was an example of working with customers to conduct trials to determine best waste-reduction options via means such as smart refrigerators (Sainsbury’s). In the area of date labeling, examples were 1) removing display-until dates and moving to a single date code (Tesco), 2) extending use-by and best-by dates (Carrefour), and 3) asking suppliers to convert to best-if-used-by date labeling terminology (Walmart). Examples related to food donation were identified as well, including partnering with local communities or food banks to donate food, also addressing hunger (Ahold Delhaize, Jerónimo Martins, Marks & Spencer, and Metro Group).
At the national level, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency in November 2016 announced the formation of a coalition—U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions—committed to meeting the national waste reduction goal. Inspired in part by Champions 12.3, coalition members have the goals of preventing food from being lost or wasted in the first place, recovering for donation food that is still good but which would otherwise be wasted, and ensuring that food that is lost or wasted can be recycled as animal feed or compost or used for energy generation. Given the nature of their supply and value chains, large companies may be particularly well-positioned to implement change that achieves substantial outcomes (Hanson 2016). The coalition is encouraged to use the FL&W Standard (Hanson 2016) released in June 2016. The standard “empowers countries and companies to quantify base-year food loss and waste inventories and track progress over time toward Target 12.3, or any other targets they may have” (Lipinski et al. 2016). Initial coalition members are Ahold USA, Blue Apron, Bon Appétit Management Co., Campbell Soup Co., Conagra Brands, Delhaize America, General Mills, Kellogg Co., PepsiCo, Sodexo, Unilever, Walmart, Wegmans Food Markets, Weis Markets, and YUM! Brands.
The U.S. Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), a cross-industry initiative of the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Assoc., and the National Restaurant Assoc., reported this past November detailed results of an analysis of U.S. food waste among three industries—food manufacturers, retail/wholesale, and restaurants (FWRA 2016). Included were nine manufacturing respondents representing more than 275 manufacturing locations; 24 retail/wholesale respondents representing more than 10,700 retail locations, 100 manufacturing locations, and more than 130 food warehouses; and 28 restaurant respondents representing 73,100 restaurant locations. The survey found that 40%–50% or more of companies invest in four out of five areas—food waste reduction, food waste disposal, food donations, food sent to animal feed, or food recycling. The investment area cited most often is increasing food donation to those in need, with 58% of respondents investing in this area.
Survey findings also showed that measuring and tracking food waste is a challenge across industries. Given an apparent disconnect between many respondents’ sense of where barriers exist and the reduction investments made, it was suggested that companies conduct an internal analysis of food waste data to better understand where most food waste is generated and where the investment opportunities are. The report indicated that the FWRA will provide further information in 2017, which will include proven solutions to help overcome identified barriers.
Sustainability is a very important topic, and food waste is a high-priority area in which IFT continues to be involved. Together we can have a valuable, positive impact on our future. Stay tuned for more from IFT on food loss and waste and opportunities for enhancing sustainability.
Rosetta Newsome, PhD, CFS
Director, Science and Policy Initiatives, IFT