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5 February 2020

Food (waste) for thought

In a time where 815 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment, one third of the food we produce is wasted.

By Valentina Delconte

If there is something humans cannot afford to waste, that is most certainly food. Yet, all around the world a staggering amount of food ends up in landfills rather than in our tables — for different reasons and in various circumstances. We are assisting to a controversial reality: while roughly one third of the food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted every year — approximately, 1.6 billion tons, undernutrition still causes the death of about 3.1 million children annually. This data is still not bitter enough? Food waste accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions feeding climate change. 

On the bright side, in times of emerging critical issues at global scale, the United Nations (UN) and national governments are working to tackle the massive misuse of resources, as envisaged by UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG 12): to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.” And it is fundamental since the numbers are simply shocking: according to the World Bank, food get lost along the whole value chain, from production to consumption, piling up the estimated 44% of global waste.

UN SDG 12.3: “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.”

And, no, the food consumption habit in all European countries don’t show a better picture: here, the greatest share of food waste occurs at the consumption stage, as markets and shops are teeming with food and consumers have become pickier and more wasteful.

With the actual trends, the challenge for the world becomes less easy to digest. Thus, SDG 12 aims to halve food waste per capita by 2030. Gladly, signals of awareness are rising, and national and international governments have taken the first steps to tackle food security issues in the context of adaptation and mitigation to climate change.

A promising example comes from Turkey, where recently a close collaboration between FAO’s SAVE FOOD Initiative and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Turkey cranked out the design of a national strategy and an action plan on food loss and waste reduction to be presented under the forthcoming “SAVE YOUR FOOD” Campaign, to launch in 2020. The essential ingredient to tackle the issue will be the close and proactive participation of all stakeholders involved in the food value chain across multiple sectors, including governments, businesses and societal stakeholders.

Kneading the economy

It will not be as easy as baking pizza, but it will take a circular approach to the economy to reduce the issue of food waste in Europe. To meet SDG 12, the European Commission (EC) adopted the Revised European Union (EU) Waste Legislation in 2018, calling on the EU countries to take action to reduce food waste at each stage of the food supply chain, monitor food waste levels, and report back regarding progress made.

The legislation has also given birth to a multi-stakeholder platform — EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste — involving both EU countries and stakeholders in the food chain in order to help define the measures needed to achieve SDG 12, facilitate inter-sector co-operation, and share best practices and results achieved.

In the frame of a circular economy, food waste should be seen as a valuable resource rather than something to be disposed into landfills or incinerators. What we don’t eat can be repurposed to tackle food security issues or for animal consumption, or even be recycled into biogas or compost that can then be used for energetic or as fertilising purposes, respectively.

Most certainly, there is no single solution to a complex problem. But one thing is for certain: all actors involved in the food chain need to sit down at the table and contribute to the plate.

Anne-Marie Bonneau, from ZeroWaste Chef: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.