Food loss and waste has risen on the global agenda in recent years, and for good reason. A full one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted between the farm and people’s plates. This results in $940 billion in economic losses every year and 8% of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions – all while 1 in 7 people still don’t have enough to eat.
Champions 12.3 is a coalition of nearly 40 executives across business, government and civil society who are doing something about it. Here, Champions answer some of the most frequently asked questions about how to reduce food loss and waste around the world.
What role does education play in reducing food loss and waste?
Yolanda Kakabadse, Member of WWF U.S.’s Board of Directors:
Public education is very important for helping future generations (as well as current) understand where food comes from and the impacts and resources that go into it. It can help more people value food, as well as know how to use food, cook with it, and other tips that can cut down on household food waste.
Informal education is also essential: food is so essential to every human being that the best way to communicate and stimulate change is by ‘walking-the-talk.’ The more we can all model good behavior, the more social norms can change and less food end up wasted.
How do we prevent the kind of behaviors that have led to food waste in developed countries from also taking root in places that are rapidly urbanizing?
Shenggen Fan, Chair Professor, China Agricultural University:
Preventing food wasting behaviors from taking root in parts of the world that are rapidly urbanizing has to start in schools. If elementary schools through universities implement programs that help students know the consequences of wasting food, those students are likely to carry those learnings throughout life and also bring good behaviors home – creating ripple effects in families. In China, massive campaigns started with the new fall semester. The research shows that public education campaigns make a difference, but behavioral science is revealing that they aren’t enough on their own. We’re still learning how to convert awareness raising into daily practices, and more work is needed to know how we shift social norms around food waste.
Workplace cafeterias are another venue that’s ripe for more attention. I’d encourage every employer with a cafeteria to adopt the ‘target, measure and act’ ethos because it really does work.
Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP:
This is really important as WRAP’s research shows food waste is already rising in the urbanizing areas of developing countries. The projected growth of prosperity will further accelerate it. The UK has tackled food waste in the home by developing deep insights into the food that is wasted, how it is wasted and who wastes it. With these insights, we designed behavioral interventions to help people prevent food waste. We have the evidence to show it works, with a 30% reduction in household food waste since 2007. The UK’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, which launched that year, still continues and designs each new campaign moment to target particular audience segments and food types. Manufacturers and retailers have also implemented changes in food packaging design and labelling to make it easier for people to buy what they need and make use of what they buy.
The challenge to do this globally is having the research to understand the specific problems in different countries so we can design approaches that will work in those environments. Doing this will be a major piece of work and require significant funding. It means finding partners and funders who want to help us stop household food waste globally.
With food prices so low, how can we convey to consumers the value of food and importance of not wasting it?
Michael La Cour, Managing Director, IKEA Food Services AB:
We as company leaders need to start by taking responsibility and action ourselves. We cannot demand anything from our customers if we do not lead with good examples. At IKEA, we truly believe that reducing food waste is a priority and we need to step up and use all our means to inform, inspire and enable our customers to prioritize reducing food waste in their own homes. For us it is not about saving money, it is about saving the planet and that is a message we need to convey. We regularly update and share that message in our own channels, such as the IKEA catalogue, in customer facing communication in our restaurants and on our website. But there is a lot more to be done.
Every crisis comes with an opportunity, and we should take the opportunity now and embrace a green recovery after the pandemic. Food is too precious to be wasted and food is always valuable no matter what the price tag on it is. So let´s show the world that we mean that by using every chance we get to share the urgency of the matter, whether it is in our private lives with our friends and family or finding ways to integrate that message in our business.
Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder and Group CEO, Olam International Limited:
The importance of reducing food waste cannot be underestimated – tackling it is one of the single most impactful things that can lower household food costs and, most critically, reduce the environmental, social and economic impacts across our global food system. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of addressing the issue, but it has also provided an opportunity. We have seen positive awareness and action among some consumers. For example, research in the UK has shown that during the COVID-19 lockdowns earlier this year, households changed their behaviors and reduced food waste. However, that behavior change hasn’t lasted as lockdowns eased and life has begun to return to normal. More work is needed to help consumers understand the value of food but also to inspire them to take sustained actions to reduce food waste.
In addition to the focus on the retail and consumer levels, this is an important question for farmers and supply chains – especially because of the impacts on food security, livelihoods and GHG emissions. Olam’s sustainable sourcing platform AtSource aims to increase the awareness and engagement of our customers around challenges related to their agricultural and food supply chains. In addition to metrics like carbon footprint, we’re now incorporating metrics for food loss. If we can help our customers better understand food losses, they in turn can help their consumers.
What are the top three things governments can do to encourage food loss and waste reduction in their countries?
Andrew Steer, President & CEO of World Resources Institute:
First, each country should set a target to reduce food loss and waste, ensuring measurement and reporting by businesses, the public sector and others, and then develop a targeted program to tackle hotspots. As part of this, countries may decide to require businesses to measure and report on food loss and waste or require businesses to work with their supply chains and their customers to help reduce this waste.
Second, as countries work to rebuild their economies post-COVID-19, they should take this opportunity to address food loss and waste. The pandemic highlighted a number of weaknesses in the food system, leading to loss and waste. But it also showed that at the household level at least, when people worry that they may not be able to go so easily to the store, progress can be made quickly. Smart governments will capitalize on these facts, making a step-change in addressing food loss and waste.
Third, food loss and waste reduction should be included in countries’ NDCs and climate plans. Many governments and companies still do not recognize the significant role that tackling food loss and waste can play in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – or the fact that it will not be possible to achieve the greenhouse gas emission targets without addressing food loss and waste.
Please read the Call to Action recently published by the Champions 12.3 coalition, which sets out key priorities that businesses and governments need to do if we are to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.
How can countries integrate different levels of governments and foster public-private partnerships?
Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP:
For a public-private partnership to be effective, it needs to be well-designed, have evidence-based targets, hold its members to account for delivering their action plans and report progress. Just setting targets is not enough. Real effort has to go into measuring and ensuring members act. Effective public-private partnerships can seem costly to set up and run, but the benefits outweigh the costs manyfold. They are often good to lead regulation as they can move much faster. Legislation takes time to develop, consult and bring in. It can also have unintended consequences. Public-private partnerships can operate with different levels of government. In the UK, waste is a devolved matter across the governments of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the Courtauld Commitment brings all the governments to work collectively with business to drive real change.
The Courtauld Commitment is a voluntary commitment by leading businesses in the UK to reduce food loss and waste in their own operations and in their supply chains. With support from WRAP, the companies measure their food loss and waste levels, identify solutions, pursue implementation, and report on progress. Local authorities are also involved in the commitment, learning how best to work with the private sector to reduce food loss and waste. Target-Measure-Act is at the heart of this. The UK’s success through Courtauld makes this a good public-private partnership model for other nations as well.
The Project Drawdown report put food waste reduction as the #1 way to reduce CO2 emissions. While all solutions needs to be addressed, do we need to accelerate prioritizing food waste reduction?
Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director, Food Loss and Waste at World Resources Institute:
Yes. Not enough people recognize the role that tackling food loss and waste can make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is why including food loss and waste in climate strategies (NDCs for governments and business programs etc.) is one of the three items in Champions 12.3’s Call to Action. Fighting food loss and waste has to be a higher priority than it is right now on the global climate agenda.
Some suggest charging consumers in proportion to the weight of their trash could potentially reduce food waste. Would this unjustly burden lower-income families?
Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP:
Pay-as-you-throw has been demonstrated to reduce waste of all sorts. It can help increase recycling of other materials like paper, glass, and plastics. .In terms of food waste, some evidence shows that providing separate food collections shows people how much food waste they generate – once they see this, they then reduce their food waste.
It is important to remember that reducing food waste has huge financial benefits for families – the average family with children in the UK wastes £720 each year by wasting food. In the United States, that figure is $1,500. Helping families reduce their food waste helps them save money.
In the U.S., there have been efforts to use the Good Samaritan Law (which says that suppliers cannot be sued for any food donations that make people sick) to mandate that grocery stores donate surplus or ripe produce. Would this be an effective effort to reduce food waste?
Steven Cahillane, Chairman and CEO, Kellogg Company:
Food donations are important for preventing good food from going to waste and ensuring local charities can fight food insecurity in communities. Grocery stores are naturally concerned with making sure that the food they sell or donate does not make anyone ill. Standardizing “Best if Used By” labels is one way Kellogg is making it easier for people to understand when a food is safe to eat and reduce food loss and waste at home. Through the 10x20x30 initiative, Kellogg is committed to working with our retail customers and across the entire value chain to find even more ways to reduce food waste.
Ensuring timely communication between the grocery stores and the charity groups that collect and distribute the food to communities is important as there’s often a small window which the food is available for collection and distribution. What’s heartening to see is just how much communication is happening across business to find whatever ways we can to make sure food feeds people and not landfills.
What’s a good resource to learn more about sustainable cold chains?
Lindiwe Sibanda, Co-Chair, Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture:
Expanding cold chains in places like Africa is important for reducing food losses and ensuring food can make it to market without spoiling. One resource I recommend everyone check out is ‘Solar-powered cold storage for developing countries’ – the web address is www.coldhubs.com.