The FAO has issued a toolkit for reducing food waste, as it reveals the direct economic cost to food producers stands at $750bn (€561bn) a year, in a new report.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) examined the cost of food wastage to producers of food throughout the food chain, apart from fish and seafood, and found the cost was equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland.
"All of us – farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers – must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can't," said FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva.
"We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day.”
Landfill as last resort
The FAO’s toolkit provides suggestions on how to reduce, reuse and recycle waste – and emphasises that sending waste to landfill should be a last resort only, even though it is currently the number one waste disposal strategy globally.
“Due to unsustainable production and consumption habits, industrialized countries have had major responsibility for wasted food and its impact on natural resources,” the FAO document says. “Here, most preventive actions focus on raising awareness of the issue and spurring consumers and businesses to invert the current trends, looking at environmentally and economically feasible solutions to food waste.”
Preventing wastage – and reducing its impact
Wastage prevention is just part of the solution, however, and the toolkit emphasises this as the best strategy. Yet it also highlights the need for sustainable solutions to reduce the impact – environmental and economic – of food that does end up being discarded.
One such example is using food waste as a raw material, such as using used coffee grounds as a growing medium for mushrooms, or spent grains from the brewing process in bread and pretzels, or using tropical fruit waste to develop biodegradable plastics for packaging.
Diverting surplus from businesses to food redistribution charities, or to animal feed, have also been successful strategies for reducing food waste in the EU.
“Food businesses have no choice but to respond to consumer demand,” says the report. “Raising awareness of food wastage creates the demand for a new product, namely food wastage avoidance, which will result in the more rapid take-up of the proposed food waste solutions.”
Food wastage amounts to about 1.3bn tonnes of food each year, either through losses at the farming and production level, which happens mostly in developing countries, or through waste at the retail, manufacturing and consumer level, which is more common in developed nations.