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Environment for Europeans
1 September 2016 | Directorate-General for Environment

More than we can chew


Each year, an estimated 88 million tonnes of food is wasted in the EU, which is around 20 % of food produced. Globally, food waste is thought to consume a quarter of all water used for farming.

“If food loss and food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, after the USA and China,” Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella told a sustainable food conference in May.

Food is lost or wasted across the supply chain. Farmers may discard damaged food, and if the market prices are lower than the cost of harvesting and transportation it may be left to rot in the field.

If food loss and food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, after the USA and China.

Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella

The retail and wholesale sectors account for 5 % of total food waste. Most goes uneaten, although NGOs such as FoodCycle in the UK are now using unsold fruit and vegetables to create nutritional meals for the homeless and the elderly.

Consumers themselves account for 53 % of the food thrown away across the EU – 92 kg per person, per year. Yet the wasting of food by some belies the poverty of others: according to Eurostat, one in ten Europeans cannot afford a nutritious meal every other day.

Waste not …

Food waste has become an issue for both campaigners and national governments. In May, France banned supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Instead, they must give it to charity or use it as animal feed, with supermarkets larger than 400 square metres having to donate unsold food or face a fine of EUR 3750.

At the European level, the Commission has called on EU Member States to reduce food waste in line with the food-waste-reduction target agreed as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Globally, per capita food waste at retail and consumer levels must be halved by 2030 and food losses cut along the food production and supply chain.

The Commission has also prioritised the prevention of food waste in its Circular Economy Package. In a circular economy, materials are kept inside the economy – shared, reused or recycled – relieving the pressure on our resources and environment, and creating business opportunities.

Since we cannot manage what we do not measure, the package requires Member States to take action to reduce food waste at each stage of the food value chain, and to report on food-waste levels. 

The proposed measures include a common methodology to measure food waste across the EU; facilitating food donation and safe use of food resources to produce animal feed; and improving the use of date marking by all actors in the food chain, including consumers.

In June, European retailers pledged to make their sector more “circular” by, for example, sourcing their food products more sustainably, cutting the waste sent to landfill, and donating food to charities.

The Commission is following up the package by launching a platform (on 29 November) to bring together 70 member organisations to maximise the contribution of all actors and help achieve the SDG, as well as to cut food losses along the food production and supply chains. 


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Directorate-General for Environment

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