A major European Union research project is studying how the environmental problem of food waste can be tackled through agreed definitions, common strategies and social innovation.
The EU FUSIONS project (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) is backed by the EU's main research instrument, the Seventh Framework Programme. Its aim is to tackle some of the inefficiencies in food production, distribution and consumption that mean that an estimated 76 kilogrammes of food per person per year is wasted in Europe.
The project's starting point is to review past initiatives on food waste and to agree common definitions and a framework for understanding the problem – at the moment, such a framework is lacking. It is even, the project notes, “notoriously difficult to quantify food waste, partly because of the many different methods used within countries and by different stakeholders”.
Once a harmonised understanding of the problem is in place, EU FUSIONS will road-test a number of social innovations that could reduce food waste. In August 2013 it published a call for food-waste social innovation projects. Ideas can be submitted by individuals, groups or businesses. The project will select four ideas and carry out feasibility studies as a first step to see if they can be rolled out more widely. The call deadline is 22 November.
The project points out that social innovation is already reducing food waste through, for example, the organisation of food redistribution schemes and training programmes to show people how to use unfashionable foods or to reduce waste from food preparation. More broadly, schemes could include “uniform date labelling, innovations in the [supply] chain to improve shelf-life of food products, or creative solutions for behavioural change,” according to the project.
If the project succeeds in identifying new methods for curtailing food waste, it will contribute to the solution of a problem that causes wide-ranging environmental damage. The European Commission has estimated that food production and consumption in the EU generate up to 30% of all EU environmental impacts, with 90 million tonnes of food wasted annually in Europe.
The EU FUSIONS project runs until July 2016. It expects to contribute to the delivery of the EU Roadmap towards a Resource Efficient Europe, and to the European Commission’s target of a 50% reduction of edible food waste by 2020.
Duration: August 2012 to July 2016
Partners: 21 project partners from 13 countries, coordinated by Wageningen University and Research Centre, the Netherlands (full list of partners at http://www.eu-fusions.org/partners).
Funding: €5,033,160 including €3,999,901 from the 7th Framework Programme
Further information: to see project partner Tristram Stuart talk on the 'global food-waste scandal', go to http://www.ted.com/talks/tristram_stuart_the_global_food_waste_scandal.html