If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.
This is according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
Dealing with food waste is therefore a way to bring down climate damaging emissions that benefit the planet, enables food to be shared more equitably between those who can afford and can’t afford it, but also presents businesses with growth potential.
Why is food waste such a problem?
In developed nations, we have got used to cheap food relative to income. This has meant that consumers have got used to throwing away perfectly edible food either because they didn’t fancy it, or because it was close to use-by or sell-by dates.
These figures show the scale of the problem:
- An estimated one quarter of all calories the world produces are thrown away, either through spoilage or spillage in supply chains, or are wasted by retailers, restaurants and consumers
- Food wastage is responsible for around 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions – China is responsible for 21% and United States 13% making food waste third on the list if it were a country
- The emissions from wasted food are three times the emissions generated from global aviation
- In middle- and high-income countries, consumers are most to blame – in Europe households are responsible for 53% of all food waste, and in Canada it is 47%
- 40% of food is wasted after it is harvested but before it makes it to people’s homes in low-income nations.
But food waste also pulls in lots of other resources that are used needlessly in production. Valuable land, fertilizers, water, and fuel are all used in the agriculture, manufacturing and transport of food that ends up thrown away.
What is the situation in major developed nations with food waste?
In 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a report that estimated that food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions – this did not include the additional methane emissions from waste food breaking down in landfill.
The amount of emissions from U.S. food waste was equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from 42 coal-fired power plants. Data shows that food represents 24% of the material landfilled and 22% of the municipal waste incinerated.
By 2030, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is aiming to reduce food waste by 50% from 2015 levels. It is using its U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions program to encourage major businesses to help combat food waste.
Signatories to this includes Aldi, Amazon, Campbell’s, Danone, Hilton, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo, Unilever, Walmart and more.
In the UK, 6.6 million tons of food waste is thrown away each year, and almost three quarters of this could have been eaten.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has been leading efforts to combat this. It has worked with global brands through its pioneering Courtauld Commitment 2030 that is a voluntary agreement that enables collaborative action across the UK food chain to deliver farm-to-fork reductions.
Its Love Food Hate Waste campaign has provided advertising and communications on ways to prevent good food being thrown into the bin. Its website includes recipes provided by celebrity chefs and tips to buy food in ways that prevents wastage.
This campaign has also been successfully adapted in Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Hungary and Czech Republic.
Every year, the population of Ireland generates one million tons of food waste, which is responsible for 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The STOPFoodWaste.ie campaign is responsible for helping Irish famers, retailers, food producers and consumers reduce the amount of food thrown away.
It provides tips on using your freezer to save more food for future use, recipes and a calendar of seasonal foods.
Around 12 million tons of food waste is generated in Germany each year.
By 2030, Germany wants to cut the six million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions by 50% that comes from wasted food in each part of the supply chain.
Its 2019 strategy includes dialogue with organizations that could help households reduce their food wastage. These include Slow Food Deutschland and the Ecologic Institute.
Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture is also examining tax breaks and benefits to further facilitate food donations to organizations that provide low-cost food to low-income households.
How do food waste donations work?
Globally, many supermarkets and food retailers/restaurant chains are donating surplus food to charities and communities.
This means perfectly edible food can help to feed those on low incomes.
In the UK, supermarket Tesco works with the FareShare network of food redistributors to support 11,000 charities. It uses the OLIO app that connects people who have surplus food with those who need it.
In 17 countries, the Too Good to Go app is working with 153,150 cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and hotels to provide cheap surprise bags (the buyer gets a variety of whatever excess food is available) to 56.8 million people who have downloaded the app.
Countries it operates in include its home nation Denmark, United States, Canada, France, Germany, UK, Ireland and others. Supermarket groups including Carrefour and Morrisons sell Too Good to Go surprise bags at the end of each day. In 2020, Carrefour sold 1.9 million of these bags.
Food waste is clearly a major issue. But what are the opportunities for waste management and recycling companies? Our previous blog 'The opportunities for recycling and waste management businesses to help combat food waste' reviewed:
- Trends such as reuse models and the impact on food waste
- How cost-of-living increases will impact on food use
- Mitigating the emissions of collecting food waste through AMCS solutions
- Treatment of food waste through anaerobic digestion and composting.
At AMCS, we view technology as a key enabler in the fight to prevent food waste across the supply chain. Our innovative computer vision-based solution, AMCS Vision AI is deployed to detect contamination of food waste collections and our innovative pay by weight billing systems are used to incentivize organizations to divert food waste to organic containers for collection. Learn more here.
In the next articles, we will look at:
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