Waste Management 41 (2015) 1–2
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The ‘‘food waste challenge’’ can be solved We waste staggering quantities of food. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (2013) reported that whilst we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food every year, we lose 30– 50% of this via poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage. In addition, signiﬁcant quantities of land, energy, fertilisers and water are lost in the production of foodstuffs that end up as waste. This is both perplexing and daunting given that whilst hundreds of millions of people are starving and consequently unhealthy, a signiﬁcant fraction of the other half is obese and also consequently unhealthy. Dealing effectively with food waste is an important part of the ongoing global challenge to simultaneously prevent food waste whilst ensuring a sustainable and regular supply of foodstuffs and adequate nutrition to all parts of society. Decreasing the amount of food waste (FW) signiﬁcantly will give several positive impacts. As well as addressing the established social inequity and health problems, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the producers’ direct costs of FW are $750 billion per year, based on producer prices only (FAO, 2013). It is estimated that the total global economic mitigation potential for reducing waste sector emissions by 2030 is more than 1000 Mt CO2-eq at a cost of less than 100 US$ t 1 CO2-eq per year (Bogner et al., 2008). With the world’s population anticipated to reach 8 billion people by 2025, this quantity of wastage cannot continue for moral, ethical, health, environmental, social and economic reasons. Food waste generation Although many wring their hands and claim that FW is an unsolvable problem, the truth is that the reasons for FW generation in developed countries are now reasonably well established (see e.g. Lebersorger and Schneider, 2011). Europeans and NorthAmericans waste 95–115 kg of food per year per person (FAO, 2011), although not all of this is ‘‘unavoidable’’. FW is generated before, during or after meal preparation in the household, and in addition, a lot of food is wasted in the manufacture, distribution, retail and food service activities. Household FW may be classiﬁed into ‘avoidable’ (leftovers, whole unused and part consumed food, including food in its packaging) and ‘non-avoidable’ (preparation residues) (Lebersorger and Schneider, 2011). The challenge is to ﬁnd policies, strategies, technologies and social interventions to reduce and ultimately prevent avoidable FW whilst minimising and recovering value from the unavoidable fraction. Policy Responses The FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme and the European Union (EU) have identiﬁed food as a key sector where http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2015.03.034 0956-053X/Ó 2015 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
resource efﬁciency should be improved. The EU’s ambitions are to halve the disposal of edible FW by 2020 and, as part of the circular economy package (towards a circular economy: a zero waste programme for Europe (COM/2014/0398)) to reduce FW by 30% by 2025, without compromising food safety. Additionally, the EU’s Landﬁll Directive (99/31/EC) requires that all member states gradually reduce the disposal of biodegradable wastes via landﬁll. The Commission highly recommends all member states to aim for ‘‘zero landﬁlling’’ of untreated bio-waste at the fastest possible pace (COM/2010/235). This is a good start, but although such regulations may help to facilitate FW prevention, their success (or otherwise) depends on the strategies of individual countries. Meeting the challenge All parts of society – the agricultural and food sectors; the public; business and commerce; government; politicians – need to work together to meet the food waste challenge. It is our contention that solutions can be found if we adhere to certain key principles:
There is an urgent need for commonly-agreed and improved metrics and deﬁnitions for FW (if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it). There is a similar urgent need for recognised good practice e.g. education and awareness-raising campaigns along the supply chain, ﬁnancial incentives, prevention campaigns, etc. Society’s ﬁrst challenge and immediate priority should be to prevent avoidable FW. Wasting food in a global society where so many are starving is a sign that our society is currently not giving food waste enough technical and political attention. We also need to identify optimal methods for the redistribution of edible food that is currently disposed of by some consumers as well as the other key stakeholders in the food chain. We need to value food properly, although we recognise that this is not as easy as it sounds. The widespread availability of ‘‘cheap food’’ in some parts of the world is important in terms of preventing food poverty but it also contributes signiﬁcantly to: (i) the food waste problem and (ii) food being grown and exported from regions that have high food poverty to those that have high food wastage and a simultaneous obesity epidemic. There should be a comprehensive assessment of signiﬁcant food supply chains, including consideration of external costs and sustainability effects. This would help us to determine an optimal price for foodstuffs in order to keep food affordable whilst reducing inefﬁciencies in the system.
Editorial / Waste Management 41 (2015) 1–2
We need to accept that ‘‘end-of-pipe’’ treatment of avoidable FW is not sensible or cost- and resource-effective. Society could easily end up building lots of infrastructure to treat and dispose of avoidable FW unless we are vigilant. We should spend money on prevention before we spend money on disposal. Once infrastructure is built, it is around for a long time. Society has to recognise that utilisation of avoidable food waste – even feeding to animals – is the second best option, ranking after food waste prevention. We need to recognise that some FW is unavoidable. For this fraction, we need to improve the quality and value of separately collected FW by identifying optimal methods for its use as feed and as a raw material for new products. We already have some technological solutions (such as anaerobic digestion and composting) for safely treating and recovering value from unavoidable and inedible FW as a renewable resource. We also have some social solutions (such as valorisation processes that redirect former ‘‘food waste’’ streams to keep them within the food supply chain). These technologies need to be supported, improved and rolled-out. It should be a priority to optimise unavoidable FW treatment processes for different types of raw materials, with regards to cost and energy efﬁciency, ﬁnal products and locations, by maximising energy and fertilizer production. We need to recognise that managing unavoidable FW in a safe and sustainable fashion is essential in terms of public health and environmental beneﬁts. This fraction can also be treated by promoting innovative applications and new products from unavoidable FW, e.g. biopolymers, aromas, pigments, alcohols and organic acids. We should quantify and evaluate the ﬁnancial, environmental and social impacts of the proposed actions. The outputs should clearly demonstrate value to society. If they do not we will need to think again. In conclusions The IWWG is addressing FW issues head-on. It has established a Task Group on the Prevention of Food Waste (www.tuhh.de/iue/ iwwg/task-groups/food-waste.html) that facilitates the sharing of evidence-based technological and social research outcomes, provides a forum for discussion and ideas, and enables the generation of hypotheses to foster further research activities. The authors of this editorial are founder members of this Task Group. We ﬁrmly believe that the principles we have outlined will enable society to at least get to grips with the FW challenge, and ultimately to solve the FW problem. We must not take too much longer to realise that prevention and minimisation of avoidable FW whilst recovering value from unavoidable FW is the only realistic way to successfully address the global FW challenge. References Bogner, J., Pipatti, R., Hashimoto, S., Diaz, C., Mareckova, K., Diaz, L., Kjeldsen, P., Monni, S., Faaij, A., Gao, Q., Zhang, T., Ahmed, M.A., Sutamihardja, R.T.M., Gregory, R., 2008. Mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions from waste: conclusions and strategies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. Working Group 3 (Mitigation). Waste Manage. Res. 26, 11–32. FAO, 2011. Global Food Losses and Food Waste. Extent, Causes and Prevention. FAO, Rome, Italy. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2013. Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources. FAO, Rome, Italy. Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), 2013. Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not. IMechE, London, UK. Lebersorger, S., Schneider, F., 2011. Discussion on the methodology for determining food waste in household waste composition studies. Waste Manage. 31 (9–10), 1924–1933.
I.D. Williams Centre for Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, Lanchester Building, University of Southampton, Highﬁeld, Southampton, Hampshire SO17 1BJ, UK F. Schneider Institute of Waste Management, BOKU-University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria F. Syversen Mepex Consult AS, Torvveien 5, 1383 Asker, Norway Available online 4 May 2015 I.D. Williams is Professor of Applied Environmental Science and Head of the Centre for Environmental Science at the University of Southampton, England.
F. Schneider is research associate at the Institute of Waste Management at the BOKU-University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna since 2001. Her main ﬁelds of interest are waste prevention, waste generation and collection, renewable resources, WEEE as well as ecological impact of those issues. Her research focuses on food waste generation, composition, reasons, prevention measures and strategies as well as methodology. Since 2010 she is the chair of the IWWG task group on Prevention of Food Waste.
F. Syversen is a waste management consultant from to Oslo, Norway. Master of science from University of Trondheim in 1984, civil engineering division. He has more than 25 years of professional experience and broad knowledge about solid waste management systems and environmental impacts. Last 20 years he has been a senior adviser in Mepex Consult AS, and last 10 years also as Managing director. Experience from many projects in Norway and abroad covering waste prevention, integrated waste management system analysis, planning and implementation.