Winning the war on waste

Sep 9, 2019 | More from less

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While there’s lots of hype in the media about changing diets to save the environment, another less sexy reform for the food system remains an imperative – cutting food waste.

Halving food waste by 2030 is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Achieving that goal would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 gigatons annually by 2050. It would mean an area roughly the size of Argentina wouldn’t need to converted to farmland to feed an expected population of nearly 10 billion people.

Now a report from non-profit World Resources Institute (WRI) has highlighted the way targets can effectively prioritize strategies and deliver progress. In the UK, when the government started focusing on post-farm food waste in 2007, there was a 19% reduction in waste over the next five years. In New Zealand, a campaign from 2015 to 2018 cut household food waste by 27%. In Seoul, South Korea, where the government started charging people for the food that they threw out by weight, waste dropped 10%. Companies have also made remarkable progress. As one example, Unilever cut food waste in its manufacturing operations by 37% between 2016 and 2017.

Once meaningful targets are set, there are a myriad of creative approaches to reduce food waste that can be deployed. WRI points to new uses for imperfect produce, solar-powered cold storage in developing countries, apps that tell farmers the fastest route to market or match unsold product with food rescue organisations. Redesigning labels to make “use by,” “best by,” and “sell by” dates less confusing could have a massive impact on household waste, as could technologies that extend shelf-life.

The report notes there are now 32 of the world’s largest food companies that have food-waste reduction targets aligned with the 2030 goal. Craig Hanson, vice president of food, forests, water, and ocean suggests governments also need to step up, and companies should urge their suppliers to adopt similar food waste goals.

It is a war that will need to be waged on multiple fronts, but as the WRI report demonstrated, focus and commitment can lead to significant victories.