Food Waste: Sustainability implications
A growing body of
evidence suggests tackling food waste could help resolve many of the
sustainability challenges faced by the food industry. A number of
studies are linking food losses & waste to food inflation, food
security, resource inputs and climate change.
The global food industry is currently experiencing its third bout of
food inflation in 5 years because of poor agricultural harvests in the
US, Russia and South America. Analysts predict the average basket of
food prices will rise by 15% by June 2013. The hike in food prices is
raising concerns about food security and its political and social
repercussions. Food shortages and price hikes have previously been
responsible for riots in developing countries.
With the global population projected to rise to 9 billion in 2050 and
resources becoming increasingly strained, there is a growing realization
that raising production levels alone will not solve the problems facing
the food industry.
As was shown at the Sustainable Foods Summit, greater efficiency in
supply chains can raise food output and help reduce consumer prices.
In a paper at the
summit, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
showed how a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost
or wasted in the supply chain. Inadequate storage and distribution is
the major cause of losses in developing countries, whilst waste at
retail and consumer level is most responsible in affluent countries. A
recent report by the Natural Resources Defense
Council estimates that food
wastage in the US amounts to $165 billion. The cost to the average
American family is $2,275 per year. At the same time, over 15% of the
population struggles to find enough food.
Apart from the social and economic implications of food waste, there are
environmental impacts. About 121 billion pounds (54.9
million metric tons) of food is wasted in the
US, with two-thirds going to landfill. Food waste in landfill is a major
contributor to global warming, creating almost a quarter of methane
gases. Agriculture also requires resources that are becoming
increasingly scarce; uneaten food takes up 25% of the fresh water and 4%
of the oil used in the US.
Realizing the importance of tackling food waste, American food
manufacturers, retailers, and restaurant operators formed The Food Waste
Reduction Alliance (FWRA) last year. The alliance aims to reduce the
amount of food waste going to landfill and increase food donations to
hungry people. At the Sustainable Foods Summit, FWRA stated the
importance of a collaborative approach to reduce food waste:
how the private
sector needs to work with the government and NGOs.
Landfill diversion is the focus of most retailers and foodservice
operators. A growing number of such enterprises are setting up food
recovery programs whereby food is diverted from landfill to hunger
relief agencies, and / or for use in animal feed, composting or
industrial applications. Feeding America operates the largest food
recovery program, operating over 200 food banks that serve almost 40
million Americans a year.
Retailers are also becoming aware of the economic benefits; reducing
waste means lower hauling costs to landfill. Whole Foods Market, the
largest chain of natural food shops in North America, is successful with
composting food waste; over 75% of its stores have set up composting
Some retailers have gone further by adopting a zero-waste policy. Four
Albertson stores in California have achieved zero waste classification
whereby 95% of their waste is diverted from landfill. Foodservice
operators like the Bon Appétit Management Company and Sodexo have also
introduced programs to reduce waste.
A major challenge however is changing consumer behavior, especially
since about 44% of food waste comes from households. The role of food
companies and retailers to encourage responsible consumption
was discussed at the Sustainable Foods Summit. Such methods include
educating consumers on how to read food product labels, shop wisely, and
use food more efficiently.
Sustainable Foods Summit
Tackling Food Waste was a focal theme of the 3rd
North American edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit.
The summit took place in
San Francisco in January
2013; it brought together leading
organizations involved in tackling food losses and waste.
Details on upcoming editions is
available from the
Posted: December 18th 2012
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