The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) brought together international speakers to address the global issue of food waste. Under the hashtag #SaveFoodConference, the Regional Conference on Food Loss and Waste Reduction in Europe and Central Asia “Enabling the Change” ran for two days in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2022. While some speakers and attendees were physically at the conference venue, many others dialled in from their chosen remote location.
These are some key lessons and messages from the conference.
Global Food Waste in Figures
For more information on statistical data on food waste, the conference provided a link to resources.
These are some figures shared during Eugenia Carrara’s presentation (World Union of Wholesale Markets):
- wasted food represents 38% of the total energy usage in the global food system
- wholesale markets are responsible for 5% of food waste in Europe (this is also called food loss and it is due to issues such as spoilage during transport for example or inefficient storage, such as refrigeration for short shelf life produce).
Nicholas Hamilton from Sodexo reported that:
- 1/3 of food worldwide is wasted
- in 2019 1.3 billion tonnes of food was wasted
- in the brewery sector alone, 40 million tonnes of spent grains end up in landfill
Marit Nilses from UNECE (Economic Cooperation and Trade Division) talked about food loss in the fresh food value chain:
- 14% of food produced is lost from harvest to retail (with related loss of water, land and labour)
- 25% of global freshwater supply is lost together with fresh fruit and vegetables ending in landfill
Carola Fabi from FAO shared evidence-based data collected in the past few years:
- in 2020 14% of the food produced did not reach retail distribution
- in 2020 32% of fruit and vegetables did not make it to supermarket shelves
- New Zealand, Australia and Asian countries have lower food waste levels compared to Western countries
Senior Behavioural Scientist from the World Resources Institute Dr. Sophie Attwood discussed a framework of interconnected steps to reduce food waste, which currently stands at:
- 75-90 kg of food waste per household per year (in higher income countries)
Richard Swannell, CEO of Wrap, reminded the audience that:
- 570 million tonnes of food are wasted in households globally
- 120 million tonnes of food is lost in retail globally
- 30% of Australians throw away the equivalent of one whole bag of food per week
- 48% of Britons throw away one week’s worth of food shopping a week.
What Are the Solutions to Reduce Food Waste?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackle food waste, especially when comparing behaviours in different countries.
During the Save Food Conference presenters showed successful case studies from countries such as Georgia and The Netherlands where targeted campaigns changed consumers’ behaviours and therefore limiting the amount of food that ends up in the bin.
Among the positive behavioural changes to reduce food waste the most notable examples include the Too Good To Go app, the Love Food Haste Waste campaign and the Dutch approach from the United Against Food Waste Foundation.
Too Good To Go App
I personally started using the Too Good To Go app in Ireland to access high quality food at affordable prices, with the added bonus of reducing the amount of excess stock going to landfill and therefore also reducing the amount of greenhouse emissions. The app, in fact, not only helps consumers save money but it also calculates how much carbon was saved by saving food about to expire.
For example, by making four purchases in local shops I saved 10 kgs of CO2.
The Too Good To Go app started in Denmark and its use has expanded to other countries such as the UK, Ireland, the United States, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France and Germany. The app was created to tackle surplus food and so far 166 million meals have been saved globally across more than 65 million users and about 120,000 stores.
Christophe Dierczxsens from Too Good To Go explained in detail the Look, Smell, Taste campaign to extend the consumption of foods and food products that are safe to eat and drink after their best before date.
With 462 brands taking part in 13 countries, the campaign has a wide reach and has been translated into local languages.
When surveyed about the campaign, 16% of respondents said that they noticed it and among them 67% said they were willing to change their habits to reduce waste.
Love Food Haste Waste Campaign
Ogilvy Consulting with WRAP launched the Love Food Hate Waste campaign creating new product labelling that invites consumer to use up food. Part of the campaign includes recipes and meal preparation advice such as cooking with items that have been stored in the freezer, as well as key messages such as “Enjoy me for longer” to entice shoppers to buy food after its best before date while it’s still safe to eat, basically telling them they are getting “bonus days” or “extra days” to enjoy the food on the shelf. There is a difference between “best before” and “use by” dates, the latter being the latest it is safe to consume food by.
United Against Food Waste Foundation
Presenting remotely, Toine Timmermans showcased the Dutch campaign for food waste prevention campaign resulting in a clear reduction in waste from 48 kg per person per year in 2010 to 34 kg per person annually in 2019.
The campaign’s aim has been to guide the customer journey from buying to storing to cooking food; the programme framework targeted families with young children, which tend to throw away more food than average (fussy eaters, anyone?). Among the initiatives from the campaign was the “Food Waste Free Week” with adverts both online and on TV.
For example, in a survey 38% of the people who had watched the campaign reported throwing away less bread, therefore changing their behaviour. On average families waste four slices of bread per week and the campaign encouraged people to use stale bread in recipes as well as buying less bread to start with.
Dutch supermarkets have been joining the initiative to reduce food waste and they have been displaying messages in store to promote the message.
Is There Hope for a Zero Food Waste Future?
After hearing the presentations from the conference I personally think that there are positive signs for the future as there seems to be more commitment among the general public to be mindful about food consumption and preservation. This is so important not only to limit greenhouse emissions but also to secure food supplies in the future for generations to come.
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