About food waste

Last changed: 26 November 2018
Compost. Photo.

Food waste is a problem because it takes resources and causing environmental impact of the food system without providing the intended benefits. FAO estimates that about 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is thrown or lost. Losses and losses occur in all stages of the food chain. In the richer countries, the consumers step is the step where the largest losses occur.

What do we mean by food waste?

At the consumer step, food waste can be leftovers that are not used and at the store it can be items with short expiration date. There are also losses in primary production, such as animals that die during breeding.

The food makes relatively little use as a fuel or biogas raw material. Therefore, it is best to ensure that the waste does not occur by not overbooking, either at trade or consumer level. In addition, it is important that the food industry can get products our from all side streams.

The environmental impact of the food

Of the nine planetary boundaries of survival of humanity and planet, five have already passed or are in an uncertain zone (biodiversity, land use, freshwater use, biogeochemical cycle and climate impact), with agriculture as the main driving force for four and strongly contributing to the fifth (Campbell et al., 2017; Figure 1). Gordon et al (2017) writes that food production accounts for a high proportion of human total load:

  • Climate: 25%
  • Water use: 70%
  • Land Use: 75%
  • Biodiversity: 75%
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus: 100%

Climatic impacts will then add 5-10% to the stages of agriculture: food industry, distribution, storage, cooking, etc. (Vermeulen et al., 2012), thus rising to 30-35%. With this extensive impact, food therefore has a decisive impact on how well we will succeed in sustainable development for life on earth. Johan Rockström, in connection with his new cookbook, has come up with a quote that summarizes the situation in a simple way: "If we fix the food, we fix the planet."

Measures to reduce the food's environmental impact

Springmann et al (2018) has in an article in Nature studied various action scenarios to cope with the food system within the limits of the planet. Only if you combine the most ambitious measures will you achieve the goal until 2050 (Figure 2, and below).

Action Scenario / Ambition level
Food waste and losses      
Reduce by 75 %
Dietary adaption
Flexitarian, plant based
Production technology Tech +

Radically reducing food habits and losses is thus one of the three most important measures we can make in the food system for clear humanity within the limits of the planet.

Goal of reduced food waste

In 2015, the UN adopted 17 Sustainability Objectives (SDGs) under Agenda 2030. The EU is committed to incorporate these development goals into both its internal and external policies (European Commission, 2018). In Sweden, a formal national target is still missing (Food Administration, 2018).

SDG 12.3 is about food waste and is expressed as following: By 2030, half per capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses. This goal has been widely recognized, and is mentioned in, among others, the Food Strategy (Swedish Government, 2017), "A comprehensive and systematic approach should be taken to enable Sweden to live up to the UN's global sustainability goal of halving global food welfare by 2030 per person. "Compared with the Nature article above, the UN's policy-oriented goal of a 50% reduction in food wage by 2030 appears to be just one step towards the scientifically estimated 75% as needed.

Reduce the waste to protect the planet

Globally, it is about 5 times greater production volumes of vegetable commodities than animal commodities, including those used as animal feed (FAO, 2011). At the same time, animal food generally accounts for higher climate and other environmental impacts (Clune et al., 2017; Röös et al., 2013).

This means that it can be more effective to try to reduce the loss of animal products, if it is the planetary boundaries we want to protect. Every saved kilo meat that leads to new meat not having to be produced is a many times greater profit compared to a corresponding kilo of potatoes. If the halfway goal is not taken into account for plants and animalsier individually, there is a risk that this will be filled out by mostly vegetables without causing the desired effect.

Measures should rather be prioritized to quickly reduce animal waste, so that the first reduction, down to 50%, largely reduces the loss of animal products.

Action plan

In Sweden, the Swedish Food Administration, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish Agriculture Agency have received a joint government assignment to develop a trade plan for reduced food welfare. In June 2018, their report "More Doing More - Action Plan for Reduced Food Work 2030" was presented. Four areas are particularly highlighted:

  • A national goal and development of follow-up methods
  • Active collaboration between industry actors in the food chain
  • A changed consumer behavior
  • Research, research and innovationThe National Food Agency, the Swedish Agriculture Agency and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency will continue in 2018-2019 in accordance with the action plan.

This text is written by Ingrid Strid, researcher at the Department of Energy and Technology.