About Food Waste
In the EU, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros (FUSIONS, 2016). While an estimated 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted, 36.2 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day (Eurostat, 2020).
Globally, approximately a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted (FAO, 2011). FAO’s Food Loss Index (FLI) estimates that globally, around 14 percent of all food produced is lost from the post-harvest stage up to, but excluding, the retail stage (FAO, 2019).
According to the UNEP Food Waste Index 2021, around 931 million tonnes of food waste were generated in 2019 – 61% of which came from households, 26% from food service and 13% from retail. Similarly, in the EU, households generate more than half of the total food waste in the EU (47 million tonnes) with 70% of food waste arising at household, food service and retail (FUSIONS, 2016).
Wasting food is not only an ethical and economic issue but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources. The EU is committed to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3 to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030, and reduce food losses along the food production and supply chains. By reducing food losses and waste to help achieve Sustainable Development Goals, we can also:
- support the fight against climate change (food waste alone generates 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions (UNEP Food Waste Index 2021))
- save nutritious food for redistribution to those in need, helping to eradicate hunger and malnutrition
- save money for farmers, companies and households
Food is lost or wasted along the whole food supply chain: on the farm, in processing and manufacture, in shops, in restaurants and canteens and in the home. The reasons for food waste vary widely and can be sector-specific.
Factors contributing to food waste include:
- Insufficient shopping and meal planning
- Shopping environment (e.g. promotions like "buy one, get one free" that may lead to impulse buying and over-purchase)
- Misunderstandings about the meaning of "best before" and "use by" date labels leading to edible foods being thrown away
- Insufficient food management skills (e.g. meal preparation, use of food/food ingredients in-stock, use of leftovers)
- Packaging difficult to empty or too large
- Aesthetic considerations (bruised fruit and vegetables etc.)
- Standardised portion sizes in restaurants and canteens
- Difficulty in anticipating the number of customers (a problem for catering services)
- Stock management issues for manufacturers and retailers
- High quality standards (e.g. for produce sold at retail)
- Overproduction or lack of demand for certain products at certain times of the year
- Production errors, products and/or labelling not meeting specifications
- Product and packaging damage (farmers and food manufacturing)
- Inadequate storage/transport at all stages of the food chain including households (e.g. refrigerator temperatures)
- Lack of knowledge and/or misinformation on the environmental, social and financial impacts of food waste
- Low perceived value of food
- Busy lifestyle and conflicting priorities
Underlying all these problems is an overall lack of awareness, by many actors, of the sheer scale of the problem, the possible solutions and the benefits that come from reducing food waste.
All actors in the food chain have a role to play in preventing and reducing food waste, from those who produce and process foods (farmers, food manufacturers and processors) to those who make foods available for consumption (hospitality sector, retailers) and ultimately consumers themselves.
The EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste issued a set of key recommendations for action in food waste prevention to inspire and encourage public and private players to take action. The recommendations address action required at each stage of the food supply chain (including food redistribution) and include a set of horizontal or ‘cross-cutting’ recommendations, which often involve multiple actors and sectors.
Everyone can play a role in reducing food waste. Often with minimal effort, food waste can be reduced, saving money and helping to protect the environment. It might be a lot easier than you think! Check our communications materials for tips on how to save food and other practical information.
Companies which implement food waste reduction initiatives in their daily operations are bound to reap the financial benefits of their actions. After evaluating cost and benefit data for 1,200 business sites across 700 companies in 17 countries, researchers from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that for most companies, for every $1 invested in reducing food waste, they saved $14 or more. The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste report by WRI and WRAP can be accessed here, as well as other sector-specific business cases (catering, hotels, restaurants).
In July 2021, the EU Code of Conduct on responsible food business and marketing practices, one of the first concrete deliverables of the Farm to Fork Strategy, entered into force. The Code aims at improving the sustainability performance of business operators ‘in the middle’ of the food chain (food manufacturers, food service operators and retailers) and includes commitments regarding the prevention and reduction of food loss and waste. The Code is developed by the EU food industry (associations and companies) with active involvement and input from other stakeholders, including international organisations, NGOs, trade unions and trade associations, and in concertation with the European Commission services. More information can be found on its dedicated website.
Governments should create enabling policy environments that stimulate food waste prevention and reduction initiatives, including economic incentives for application of the waste hierarchy (e.g. fiscal incentives for food donation). Food waste is a cross-cutting issue affecting different policy areas; therefore relevant public services should coordinate efforts and develop integrated action plans in order to tackle food waste effectively. Strengthening collaboration between all actors of the food supply chain is crucial; governments can facilitate such synergies in view of achieving more sustainable food systems.
The central goal of EU food safety policy is to protect both human and animal health. We cannot compromise on these standards but, in co-operation with Member States and stakeholders, are looking for every opportunity to prevent food waste and strengthen sustainability of the food system.
The Commission’s food waste webpages provide:
- Information on EU actions to tackle food waste, including the work of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste
- Communications materials to help raise awareness about the issue
- Information about the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, and
- A resources library