EU Science Hub

Food waste accounting - Methodologies, challenges and opportunities

Abstract: 
Food waste (FW) is a priority both at global and European level. The United Nations (UN) defined the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 target of ‘By 2030, halve per capita global FW at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses’. The European Commission has committed to achieve this goal and defined FW as a priority within the Circular Economy Action Plan. In order to support achievement of the SDG 12.3 target on food waste and maximise the contribution of all actors, the Commission to established the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste (FLW) to support all actors in defining measures needed to prevent food waste, sharing best practice, and evaluating progress made over time. The first step to address FW is to have a robust account of FW generated along the Food Supply Chain (FSC). Studies can be found in the literature that estimate FW at the EU level but results are discrepant because of different approaches, e.g. inclusion of inedible fractions of food and type of measurement. Furthermore, each approach presents strengths and weaknesses that may influence its use for specific purposes. At present, a consolidated framework for FW quantification in Europe is still an open challenge. A robust FW accounting system and FW quantification is primordial to enable monitoring FW and measuring distance to FW reduction targets. Such information is necessary to identify the most important FW streams, to define a baseline to monitor FW reduction over time, and to recognise FW flows that may undergo a valorisation process in a circular economy perspective To contribute to the development of harmonized and robust FW accounting methodologies and FW quantification, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), bioeconomy unit (D1) organized a technical workshop entitled ‘Food waste accounting: methodologies, challenges and opportunities’ with speaker’s representative of the main projects related to FW accounting. The aim of the workshop was to share experiences and perspectives on FW quantification at the European scale, highlighting opportunities and challenges in order to improve FW quantification and ensure better decision support in relation to FW reduction and valorisation. A key message from the workshop was that a harmonize methodology for FW accounting is not yet defined and there is the need of improving and matching methodological aspects and policy questions as the information needs are different depending on the area of policy intervention (either prevention, management or valorisation). Together with a clear framework for FW accounting, a clear and consensual FW definition clearly and in standardized way the aim, definitions and terminology (edible/inedible and avoidable/unavoidable), system boundaries, and, units of measurement is very important. This involves defining. This would enable the comparison of existing data across countries, commodities, and FSCs, which would further help exploring patterns and driving factors of FW generation. It was also identified the need to improve data quality and the development of methods to account liquid waste. Moreover, research is necessary to identify systematically types and sources of uncertainty and variability within the FW accounting framework and provide guidelines and tools to assess them. Another challenge to be addressed is the identification of FW drivers is of extreme relevance for both designing properly the framework for primary data collection and defining effective reduction strategies.