Food Waste: a Double-Edged Sword or Saviour in Disguise?

5 Practical Interventions to Address Food Waste & Spills
Food Waste: a Double-Edged Sword or Saviour in Disguise? Food Waste: a Double-Edged Sword or Saviour in Disguise?
Publ. date 8 Jul 2016
One third of all food produced globally for human consumption is lost. Even more baffling: Africa produces enough food to feed the continent, it's just that 50% gets wasted. Food waste is a multifaceted challenge that concerns the entire value chain, from farm to fork. Food spills and waste occur in different phases in the food value chain as a result of various root causes. In a series of articles on food waste Finch & Beak wants to peel the onion on the different challenges of food waste, and provide best practices and solutions of how to overcome the hurdles. In this first part of the series, we explore the issue of food waste and its main causes.

The environmental footprint makes food waste a double edged sword

If all of the world’s food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Production and distribution is responsible for two-thirds of the food that is wasted. The final third of  food waste happens at the consumer level. For all three stages, most of the global food supply that goes to waste happens in developed countries.

Millions of people around the world have far too little access to quality food to meet their basic nutritional needs, although enough food is being produced across the globe to fulfill the world population’s needs. Until recently, the prime solution to not having enough food has been to increase production. Today, however, it is generally acknowledged that is an unsustainable solution, requiring even more water, land, pesticides, and fertilizers. If we have to feed the 7.2 billion people who currently live on this planet, let alone the projected number of over 9 billion in  2050, tackling food spills and waste is key success factor to providing quality nutrition for all.

John Oliver paints a very clear (and hilarious) picture in Last Week Tonight of the Food Waste challenge in the US:


Water as key driver for agricultural innovation

The efficient management of natural resources is a key target to feed a growing population and at the same time produce food sustainably.  Today agriculture is the biggest consumer of water worldwide, and irrigation now claims close to 70 percent of all freshwater appropriated for human use. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 12 seeks to encourage industries, businesses and consumers to recycle and reduce waste and supports developing countries to move toward to more sustainable patterns of consumption by 2030. More specifically, SDG target 12.3 aims to halve global food waste per capita at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.

Sharp picture of the challenge, but what about the solutions?

During the World Economic Forum in January 2016, Champions 12.3 initiative was launched. Champions 12.3 is a coalition of executives from governments, businesses such as Unilever, Tesco and Nestlé, international organizations, research institutions, farmer groups, and civil society dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilizing action, and accelerating progress toward achieving SDG Target 12.3 by 2030. The role the champions have taken on is to lead by example, showcase, and advocate in a manner aligned with their interests and capabilities. The Government of the Netherlands and the World Resources Institute (WRI) jointly provide secretariat support to Champions 12.3, organize the convenings, and coordinate preparation of background analyses and media outreach material. Since food waste is relevant in all steps of the value chain, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has developed an overview of mitigation actions on all 5 stages which we provided with inspiring examples already successful today:

1. Production, during or immediately after harvesting on the farm

  • Provide information on how to use unmarketable crops: example gleaning in the UK
  • Improve agriculture extension services
  • Improve access to infrastructure and markets
  • Improve harvesting techniques

2. Handling and storage, after leaving the farm

  • Improve storage technologies such as evaporative coolers
  • Introduce cold chains
  • Improve handling methodologies: example ethylene technology
  • Improve infrastructure such as roads and trains

3. Processing and packaging, during industrial or domestic processing/packaging

  • Re-engineer manufacturing processes
  • Improve supply chain management
  • Improve packaging to keep food fresher for longer and optimize portion size: example FreshPaper

4. Distribution and market, during distribution to markets including wholesale and retail

  • Facilitate increased donation of unsold goods: example “solidarity fridge
  • Provide guidance on food storage and preparation to consumers
  • Change food date labelling practices
  • Change in-store promotions

5. Consumption, in the home or business of the consumer including restaurants and caterers

  • Conduct consumer education campaigns
  • Improve consumer cooking skills
  • Reduce portion sizes
  • Promote “ugly” produce: example “moche marketing

Leading examples: please step forward!

More inspiration and leading examples will be published in our upcoming newsletters. We are constantly looking out for fresh ideas and invite you to share any innovations that can accelerate solutions for the food waste challenge. Please contact us at for more information.

Image source: YouTube - Last Week Tonight

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