In September 2015, a historic window of opportunity opened to elevate the issue of food loss and waste reduction on the global agenda. At the United Nations General Assembly, countries of the world formally adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG 12 seeks to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.”
The third target under this goal (Target 12.3) calls for halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains (including post-harvest losses) by 2030.
Since the announcement of the SDGs, to what degree has the world made progress toward achieving Target 12.3?
This publication addresses this question by evaluating progress relative to a three-step pathway for reducing food loss and waste: (1) target, (2) measure, and (3) act.
Targets set ambition and ambition motivates action. Therefore, a first step toward reducing food loss and waste is for governments and companies to set reduction targets consistent with SDG Target 12.3. Some governments and companies have already adopted such targets, with some being set even before the SDGs were approved. Examples include the United States, European Union, African Union, Consumer Goods Forum, and Courthauld 2025.
There is an old adage that goes “what gets measured gets managed.” This holds true for food loss and waste, as well. Quantifying food loss and waste within borders, operations, or supply chains can help decision makers better understand how much, where, and why food is being lost or wasted. This information is a foundation for developing and prioritizing reduction strategies. Some governments and companies are already starting to measure. Examples include the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union, Japan, and companies such as food retailer Tesco. In the past year, tools have emerged to facilitate measurement, including the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard and the Food Waste Quantification Manual developed by the EU FUSIONS initiative.
Setting targets and measuring food loss and waste are important. But ultimately governments, companies, farmers, and citizens need to act. Knowing where and how much food is being lost and wasted, entities can prioritize actions to tackle the hotspots. Exactly what needs to be done varies between countries. Since the launch of the SDGs in 2015, there have been a number of new notable actions by countries, companies, philanthropies, and others.
Much more needs to be done over the coming 14 years if Target 12.3 is to be achieved. Recommendations include:
- Every country, every major city, and every company involved in food supply chains should set food loss and waste reduction targets consistent with Target 12.3 in order to ensure sufficient attention and focus.
- Governments (at national and subnational levels) and companies should quantify and report on their food loss and waste in order to develop a base-year inventory and then monitor progress over time through 2030.
- Governments, companies, research institutions, and international agencies should publicly share empirical and modeled data on food loss and waste by geography, food category, and stage in the value chain in order to lower the costs for everyone when conducting inventories.
- In the meantime, the United Nations should work to clarify the scope of SDG Target 12.3, in particular the material type(s) and destinations that the target encompasses and that entities should report against.
- Governments, companies, research institutions, and international agencies should refine methods for quantifying the economic, environmental, and social benefits of food loss and waste reduction. In addition, they should build impact indicators into reduction initiatives and policies in order to facilitate initiative evaluation and adaptive management.
- Governments and companies should accelerate and scale up adoption of policies, incentives, and practices that reduce food loss and waste.
- Governments, companies, research institutions, and civil society need to articulate both quantitatively and qualitatively the political and business case for action.
- Governments, development banks, other financial institutions, businesses, and philanthropic organizations should increase financing for food loss and waste reduction technologies, processes, and research and help make projects more investment-ready.
- Governments, companies, and research institutions should accelerate programs to exchange information, share know-how and good practice, and build technical capacity in food loss and waste prevention and reduction across the food supply chain.
Set targets, measure the problem, and take action. If the world does this, it will take a big step toward realizing a future that achieves food security, protects the planet, and contributes to prosperity for all.