Statistics Explained

Food waste and food waste prevention - estimates

This is the stable Version.


Data extracted in October 2022

Planned article update: 1 October 2023

Highlights


First EU-wide monitoring of food waste: 127 kg per inhabitant in the EU in 2020


This article provides the results of the first dedicated statistical monitoring of the amount of food waste in the European Union by sector of activity according to the NACE rev. 2 classification and by households, excluding food losses (food not harvested or food not authorised to be marketed for safety reasons), for the year 2020.

Food waste Final.png


In 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 127 kilogrammes (kg) of food waste per inhabitant were generated in the EU. Households generated 55 % of food waste, accounting for 70 kg per inhabitant. The remaining 45 % was waste generated upwards in the food supply chain. Household food waste is nearly twice the amount of food waste arising from the sectors of primary production and manufacture of food products and beverages (14 kg and 23 kg per inhabitant; 11 % and 18 %, respectively), sectors in which strategies exist for reducing food waste, for instance with the use of discarded parts as by-products. Restaurants and food services accounted for 12 kg of food waste per person (9 %), while retail and other distribution of food was the sector with the least amount of food waste (9 kg; 7 %); however, the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns on these two sectors is still being analysed.



Full article


Amounts of food waste at EU level

At EU level, the total food waste measured in 2020 nearly reached 57 million tonnes of fresh mass. Household food waste represented more than 31 million tonnes of fresh mass, with a 55 % share of the total. The second sector in terms of share (18 %) was processing and manufacturing, where the amount of measured food waste was slightly above 10 million tonnes of fresh mass. The remaining share, a quarter of the total food waste, was from primary production sector (6 million tonnes, 11 % share towards the total amount of food waste), restaurants and food services (more than 5 million tonnes, 9 % share towards the total) and retail and other distribution of food sectors (more than 4 million tonnes , 7 % share). These amounts are presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Food waste estimations in the European Union, 2020
Source: Eurostat (env_wasfw)


Table 1 presents the amounts of food waste declared by the countries for reference year 2020, measured in tonnes of fresh mass, by sector of activities.

Table 1: Food waste by sector of activities, 2020
Source: Eurostat (env_wasfw), definitions


Figure 2 summarises, by aggregated sectors, food waste in terms of kilograms per inhabitant; as compared with Figure 1 and Table 1, Figure 2 also presents data from the sectors primary production and processing and manufacturing aggregated in a single class; data from sectors retail and other distribution of food and restaurants and food services are also aggregated in a single class. Figure 2 displays, therefore, for each country, the five sectors collapsed into three sectors, presented side by side with the total food waste, all in kilograms per inhabitant.

Figure 2: Food waste by sector of activities by EU Member State, 2020
Source: Eurostat (env_wasfw), definitions


In the supply and consumption sectors, food waste generation may represent 10 percent of food supplied in the EU

Table 2 illustrates that generated food waste may count for 10 % of food supplied to EU consumers in the supply and consumption sectors ("Retail and other distribution of food", "Restaurants and food services" and "Households"). To arrive at this assumption, Eurostat has roughly estimated the food placed on the market from the 2019 FAO data on food supply quantity (source: Food Balances Sheet, FAO database) provided in kilograms per inhabitant, and compared it with food waste amounts in the supply and consumption sectors.

Table 2: Comparison of food waste quantities from selected sectors and food supply quantities in the European Union, 2020
Source: Eurostat (env_wasfw) and FAO (Food Balances Sheet)


Methodology

EU Member States measure the amount of food waste for all stages of the food supply chain using the methodology set out in Annex III of Commission delegated decision (EU) 2019/1597.

In the context of this data collection, food means any substance or product, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended to be, or reasonably expected to be ingested by humans. Food waste consists of parts of food intended to be ingested (edible food) and parts of food not intended to be ingested (inedible food). Food waste is any food that has become waste under these conditions:

  1. it has entered the food supply chain,
  2. it has then been removed or discarded from the food supply chain or at the final consumption stage,
  3. it is finally destined to be processed as waste.

In order to ensure comparability, food waste has to be reported as it was in its fresh mass state. In fact, in many countries there are seasonal effects on the measures of weight of food waste, due to the loss of water originally contained in the food by evaporation or drained from the waste bin, especially occurring in summertime or whenever the food waste is not collected on a daily basis. Therefore, food waste data require measurements and estimations as tonnes of fresh mass. The source of these data is the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC), which establishes an annual reporting obligation on measurements of the levels of food waste, on Commission delegated decision (EU) 2019/1597, that defines the common methodology and minimum quality requirements for the uniform measurement of levels of food waste, and finally on Commission implementing decision (EU) 2019/2000, that provides the reporting format.


Annex III (Methodology for the in-depth measurement of food waste) of Commission delegated decision (EU) 2019/1597 foresees the use of one or more of these methodologies, by sector of activity:

  • "Direct measurement" and/or "Waste composition analysis": for all sectors of activities
  • "Mass balance": for sectors "Primary production", "Processing and manufacturing" and "Retail and other distribution of food"
  • "Questionnaires and interviews" and/or "Coefficients and production statistics": for sectors "Primary production" and "Processing and manufacturing"
  • "Counting/scanning": for sectors "Retail and other distribution of food" and "Restaurants and food services"
  • "Diaries": for sectors "Restaurants and food services" and "Households"

In this first data collection, several countries have used estimates or have indicated that for some data points their definitions differ. Estimates and differences in definitions are due to limitations in sample size, exclusion of small subsectors or of small companies or activities, incompleteness of sector surveys, suboptimal estimation of coefficients for the fresh mass calculation, misinterpretation of definitions by data reporters, difficulties in attributing the waste measurement in between two or more sectors.

Data interpretation

Countries with a population of less than 10 million inhabitants that are net exporters of raw and manufactured food products are showing high amounts of food waste, especially in the processing and manufacturing sector.

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

2020 was the first reporting year of the EU-wide monitoring of food waste levels according to Commission delegated decision (EU) 2019/1597. Information and data are based on the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) that establishes an annual reporting obligation on measurements of the levels of food waste, on Commission delegated decision (EU) 2019/1597, that defines the common methodology and minimum quality requirements for the uniform measurement of levels of food waste, and finally on Commission implementing decision (EU) 2019/2000, that provides the reporting format. Detailed information are available in the Guidance on reporting of data on food waste and food waste prevention according to Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/2000.


Context

Food waste measurement has a key role to play in the strategies for food waste reduction, that have enormous potential for diminishing the resources used along the whole food supply chain. Reducing food waste would help:

  • farmers, companies and consumers to save money;
  • decrease the environmental impact of food production, transport, processing and consumption.

Given its important environmental and economic impacts, food waste prevention and the need to adopt a more sustainable production and consumption model is a priority area in the EU's Circular Economy Action Plan. The Action Plan called on the Commission to establish a multi-stakeholder platform dedicated to food waste prevention. Established in 2016, the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste has supported the Commission in its work to adopt EU guidelines to facilitate food donations and the use of food no longer intended for human consumption as animal feed. They also develop food waste measurement methodology and undertake work to improve date marking practices.


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