How reducing food loss, waste can generate a triple win

A new report explains how reducing food loss and waste can help save on costs, combat hunger and alleviate pressure on climate.

Mallory Szczepanski, Vice President of Member Relations and Publications

August 30, 2019

5 Min Read

It’s no secret that a significant amount of food intended for human consumption is never eaten and wasted across the globe. This issue is being addressed by many companies, municipalities, nonprofits, governments and individuals, but more work must be done to successfully reduce food loss and waste.

In a new report by World Resources Institute, "Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda," experts explain how tackling the issue of food loss and waste can ultimately generate a “triple win.” According to the report, implementing reduction efforts can help farmers, companies and households save money; combat hunger; and alleviate pressure on climate, water and land.

The report highlights the food loss and waste challenge, the cause of the issue, what should be done to address it, what progress has been made so far and more.

“There’s more public and private sector activity than ever—with 30 of the world’s largest global food companies setting targets to reduce food loss and waste—but we’re still falling short in major areas,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of World Resources Institute, in a statement. “Halving food loss and waste by 2030 is critical if we’re to feed the world without destroying the planet. The three-pronged agenda we’re urging gives the world a blueprint for success, with clear and specific action items everyone from crop farmers to hoteliers must take now to combat this waste.”

It also outlines a Global Action Agenda, encouraging countries and companies to adopt the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as their own, measure their food loss and waste, take action on identified hotspots, identify a shortlist of to-dos for each type of actor in the food supply chain and scale up the impact and pace of these actor-specific interventions.

“The global action agenda we’re proposing rests on big, bold ideas,” said Katie Flanagan, associate at World Resources Institute and lead author of the report, in a statement. “I’m happy to say some are already underway, such as a rise in national public-private partnerships and new financing. Others would break fresh ground. We know this is ambitious, but when we look at the amount of food that is lost and wasted, it’s clear that such a massive challenge demands massive action.”

Below are some key takeaways from the report.

Reduction as a strategy

Many areas across the globe are setting sustainability goals, including food loss and waste reduction goals and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. While many of these goals are challenging and will take effort from various parties to successfully achieve, experts mention in the report that reduction can be a strategy to achieving these set goals.

Reducing food loss and waste can improve hunger, poverty and health, ultimately helping to create a sustainable food future and to fix an inefficient food system for the sake of people and the planet, the report points out.


Why food loss and waste matters

Reduction of food loss and waste can have a significant impact on the environment, economy, food security, job market and ethics, according to the report. For example, food loss and waste reduction can help slash greenhouse gas emissions, combat hunger across the globe, create jobs across the supply chain and help change behavior and habits for the better.

Additionally, reduction can help meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, contribute to the Paris Agreement on climate change and sustainably feed the planet by 2050, the report points out.

The cause of food loss and waste

In order to successfully reduce food loss and waste, one needs to understand the cause of the issue. The report points to “direct causes” of food loss and waste, such as concerns about a food’s safety or suitability, and “underlying drivers,” which can be technological, managerial, behavioral or structural in nature.

Altogether, there are 15 underlying drivers that need to be addressed if food loss and waste is to be successfully reduced:

  1. Poor infrastructure

  2. Inadequate equipment

  3. Suboptimal packaging

  4. Inadequate food management practices, skills or knowledge

  5. Inflexible procurement practices

  6. Poor supply and demand forecasting and planning

  7. Marketing strategies

  8. Norms and attitudes

  9. Lack of awareness

  10. Concerns about possible risks

  11. Conditions in demographics

  12. Climate

  13. Policies and regulations

  14. Economics

  15. Financing

It’s important to note that some underlying drivers are more prominent in certain regions and that food loss and waste is often driven by more than one driver.

What action needs to be taken

The report states that governments and companies should pursue a simple but effective “Target-Measure-Act approach” when it comes to reducing food loss and waste. Here’s a breakdown of what that means:

1. Set targets. Targets set ambition, and ambition motivates action.

2. Measure food loss and waste. Measuring food loss and waste can help decision-makers better understand how much, where and why food is being lost or wasted. Understanding the problem can help you overcome it and keep you on track to meet your goals.

3. Take action. Create a priority to-do list for each type of actor to get started with reducing food loss and waste. Then, take action to put that list into motion.

10 scaling interventions

To help accelerate and broaden the deployment of the Target-Measure-Act approach and the actor-specific interventions, the report highlights 10 scaling interventions:

  1. Develop national strategies for reducing food loss and waste.

  2. Create national public-private partnerships.

  3. Launch a “10x20x30” supply chain initiative, where at least 10 corporate “power players” commit to Target-Measure-Act and then engage their own 20 largest suppliers to do the same and achieve a 50 percent reduction in food loss and waste by 2030.

  4. Invigorate efforts to strengthen value chains and reduce smallholder losses.

  5. Launch a “decade of storage solutions.”

  6. Shift consumer social norms.

  7. Go after greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

  8. Scale up financing.

  9. Overcome the data deficit.

  10. Advance the research agenda.

To view the full report, click here.


This piece originally appeared on Waste360, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more waste and recycling news.

About the Author(s)

Mallory Szczepanski

Vice President of Member Relations and Publications, NWRA

Mallory Szczepanski was previously the editorial director for Waste360. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago, where her research focused on magazine journalism. She also has previously worked for Contract magazine, Restaurant Business magazine, FoodService Director magazine and Concrete Construction magazine.

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