Food waste and loss play a major role in helping meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and the Paris Agreement on climate change. It will also prove instrumental in sustainably feeding growing populations by 2050.
The UN covers food waste and loss in SDG 12.3, which aims to “halve per capital global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” by 2030.
The benefits of achieving this goal would be far-reaching, and include: closing the gap between food needed in 2050 and food available in 2010 by more than 20%; avoiding the need to convert an area of natural ecosystems roughly the side of Argentina into agricultural land; and lowering greenhouse gas (GHS) emissions by 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
However, acknowledging these facts is not enough. Companies and governments must take a ‘target-measure-act’ approach to tackling food waste, according to global research organisation World Resources Institute (WRI).
In its newly published report, Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda, WRI has compiled a priority ‘to-do’ list for all actors in the supply chain.
Significantly, the organisation has taken this guidance a step further, WRI VP for food, forest, water & the ocean, Craig Hanson, told delegates at the World Food Summit last week. “We have come up with…ten scaling interventions,” he explained. “[A list of] ten things that we believe [could] help actually accelerate the pace and geographic spread of the ‘target-measure-act’ and…to-do lists for [all] actors.”
The scaling interventions are divided into three categories: three that take a whole supply chain approach, four that target specific hotspots of food loss and waste, and three than enhance enabling conditions for reducing food loss and waste.
The report comprises three key components:
1. Governments and companies should follow the ‘target-measure-act’ approach. This means adopting a target to halve food loss and waste by 2030, measuring how much and where food is being lost and wasted, and taking action on the ‘hotspots’.
2. ‘All actors’ in the food supply chain should kick-start their actions by pursuing a ‘to-do’ list tailored to their specific roles. WRI prioritises actions from the food production phase, through handling and storage, processing and packaging, distribution and market, to consumption.
These include: improving harvesting practices to maximize yield while minimising crop damage; improving handling practices during the loading and unloading of goods; and for households, buying only what is expected to be eating, checking the refrigerator and cupboards before shopping, using a shopping list, and planning meals in advance.
3. Governments and business leaders should pursue 10 ‘scaling interventions’ that have the potential to rapidly scale, accelerate, and broaden deployment of the target-measure-act approach and the actor-specific interventions.
#1. Develop national strategies for reducing food loss and waste
“Not all countries have developed national strategies and are taking [food loss] seriously,” Hanson told delegates. But developing such strategies can help align public policy, private sector action, and farmer-to-consumer behaviour towards a shared objective. “[Implementing] a national strategy won’t guarantee success,” he continued, “but it is a good step for getting that buy-in and [multisectoral] alignment.”
#2. Create national public-private partnerships
“We are big believers in keeping [focus] on this [food waste and loss] issue,” said Hanson. And countries are beginning to set up public-private partnerships dedicated to achieving SDG 12.3: “WRAP invented this in the UK, now the Dutch have it, the Danes are onto it, the Germans [as well].”
Hanson argued that if the 20 countries with the largest agricultural production get on board with public-private collaboration, it could ‘really drive change’.
#3. Launch a ‘10x20x30’ supply chain initiative
This refers to a voluntary private sector campaign where 10 ‘power players’ commit to reducing food waste themselves, and challenge their 20 largest suppliers to do the same to reach the 2030 target.
WRAP CEO Marcus Gover also favoured this approach. “This is very much what we have been doing in the UK,” he told delegates at the report launch in Copenhagen. “We have a food waste roadmap in the UK which is bringing together the whole of the food sector to work towards 12.3 and it is that approach that says each retailer will work with its supply chain. This is delivering great change.”
#4. Invigorate efforts to strengthen value chains
By ‘invigorating efforts’, WRI hopes to encourage farmers to become more engaged with their value chains. In particular, smallholder farms could reduce losses by leveraging speculative value chains, explained Hanson. “This is something that The Rockefeller Foundation is pioneering in Africa,” he added.
#5. Launch a ‘decade of storage solutions’
WRI has called for focused collaboration between storage providers, cold chain alliances, financiers, and governments. The aim? To develop income-sensitive, climate-smart storage technologies for farmers and distribution networks around the world.
This could mean solar-powered cold storage units for remote communities, Hanson suggested.
#6. Shift consumer social norms
WRI argues that by shifting the social norm, we can make “wasting food as unacceptable as littering now is in many countries”.
Founder of Denmark’s Stop Wasting Food movement, Selina Juul, similarly highlighted the importance of this initiative. “We need to make it socially unacceptable to waste food…at every level,” she told delegates.
#7. Go after GHG emissions reductions
“There are a subset of foods – rice, beef and dairy in particular – that are the major greenhouse gas emitters when it comes to crops and food sources,” said Hanson. “What if we did a big push to reduce the loss and waste in these commodities?” This, the VP argued, would improve food insecurity and take a ‘bigger bite’ out of greenhouse gas emissions.
#8. Scale up financing
This point underscores the need to develop funds to invest in innovation, technologies, and enterprises dedicated to the 12.3 agenda. “We need more financing, access to financing, and financing plans…for the great ideas that are actually bankable,” Hanson said. “There are a number of [initiatives] that are trying to scale up financing on food loss and waste.”
#9. Overcome the data deficit
Over the next five years, a ‘concentrated push’ to measure food loss and waste is needed to meet SDG 12.3, according to WRI.
“Data drives decisions,” said Hanson. We need to gather more data and make it publicly available so that “not everyone is actually reinventing the wheel”, he continued. “We can leverage each other’s data so we can have better data and make better decisions.”
For Clementine O’Connor, a programme management officer at UN Environment, this is also a key initiative, particularly for measuring food waste in the home. “We don’t actually have any idea about the scale of household food waste in Asia, Africa, and South America,” she told delegates. “So I’d like to underline the call to support data collection.”
#10. Advance the research agenda
According to WRI, more research is required to answer ‘next generation’ questions. “There are still a lot of things we don’t know,” said Hanson, who argued that more research could help refine food loss and waste reduction strategies globally.
Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda was produced by World Resources Institute with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with United Nations Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Iowa State University, The University of Maryland’s Ed Snider Center, The Consortium for Innovation in Postharvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction, Wageningen University and Research, WRAP and the World Bank.