The term food waste generally refers to food that has been bought but not eaten and ends up in the trash. However, this is not the only valid meaning, as there are various reasons why edible food is thrown away throughout the food supply chain. There is no single definition of food waste, either as an institutional definition or in the scientific literature.
A first definition of food waste was given by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and includes any wholesome or edible substance that, instead of being intended for human consumption, is wasted, lost, decomposed, or consumed by parasites at each stage of the food supply chain (FSC).
A recent study by the Swedish Institute of Food and Biotechnology (SIK) and commissioned by the FAO also suggested a distinction between food losses and food waste. The first is due to logistical and infrastructural limitations, while the second is due to behavioral factors.
Some academics, including Professor Jan Lundqvist of Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), speak of loss and deterioration in the field and refer to losses that occur in the fields and during transport and storage. The SIK also points out that food losses and waste are only related to products intended for human consumption, food, and inedible parts of plants and animal products.
Therefore, food that was originally intended for human consumption but is no longer part of the human food chain is considered food loss even if it becomes later reused for non-food purposes ( animal feed, bioenergy, etc.). Therefore, we need to distinguish between planned and unplanned non-food use and consider the latter as food loss (even if later utilized).
The definition of food waste varies from country to country. There is no uniform definition of food waste in Europe, but recently the Agricultural and Rural Convention defined it as “the group of discarded products from the food chain that are discarded for economic, aesthetic reasons or because they are close to the sell-by date, although they are still edible and therefore potentially intended for human consumption, in the absence of a possible alternative use, they are disposed of and disposed of, with negative impacts from an environmental point of view, economic costs and loss of income.
Extensive work on this topic was carried out in Italy by food waste researchers Andrea Segrè and Luca Falasconi, who define food waste as “food products that have been discarded from the supply chain and have lost their commercial value but can still be used for human consumption. In the UK, the Waste Resources Action Program (WRAP) provides a definition of food waste, distinguishing between:
Avoidable: foods and drinks that are thrown away even though they are edible (eg, slices of bread, apples, meat, etc.);
Possibly Avoidable: Foods and drinks that some people eat and others don’t (e.g., bread crusts), or foods that may be edible if cooked in one way or another (e.g., potato skins, etc.);
Unavoidable: Residues from the preparation of food or drink that are and may be inedible (e.g. meat bones, eggshells, pineapple peels, etc.).
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines food waste as “food not consumed and food preparation waste from homes and commercial establishments such as supermarkets, restaurants, bars and company canteens”. It is a general definition that allows different American states to arbitrarily determine what is food waste according to their own purposes and goals.
For the California Department of Resource Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), the definition of food waste is the same as food waste. Food waste IS any food thrown away, including surplus, leftover, or unsold food due to the poor quality of some vegetables or leftovers such as onion skins or carrot tops, as well as any residue left on plates.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) identified three different types of losses throughout the food supply chain: losses from field to point of sale (losses from primary industry to retail); losses at the point of sale (losses at the retail level); home and away from consumer losses (consumer losses).
Specifically, this final stage includes edible food that becomes waste because it is not used by the end consumer (avoidable ingested food residues) and inedible leftovers (unavoidable ingested food residues).
A broader definition is offered by Professor Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba, who views food waste as a person’s overeating, or the difference between the amount of food each person eats and what they really need (energy value). The issue of food waste is of great importance in efforts to fight hunger, increase incomes and improve food security in the world’s poorest countries.
Food losses affect poor people’s food security, food quality and safety, economic development, and the environment. The exact causes of food loss vary around the world and are highly dependent on the specific conditions and local situation in a particular country. In general, food losses are influenced by cultivation options and methods, internal infrastructures and capacity, marketing chains and distribution channels, and farmers’ purchasing and use practices.
Regardless of the level of economic development and maturity of the systems in a country, food losses must be reduced to a minimum. Food losses represent a waste of resources used in production, such as land, water, energy, and inputs. The production of food that is not consumed leads to unnecessary CO2 emissions in addition to the economic loss of value of the food produced.
Economically avoidable food losses have a direct and negative impact on the income of farmers and consumers. Food insecurity, reducing food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihoods. For poor consumers (households with unsafe or vulnerable diets), access to nutritious, safe, and affordable food is a clear priority. It is important to note that food insecurity is often an issue of access (purchasing power and food prices) rather than a supply issue.
Improving the efficiency of the food supply chain could help reduce the cost of food for the consumer, thereby increasing access. Given the scale of food losses, profitable investments to reduce losses could be a way to reduce food costs. Of course, they require that the financial gains from loss mitigation are not outweighed by their costs.
How much food is lost and wasted in the world today and how can we prevent food loss? These are questions to which no precise answers can be given, and not much is happening. This is quite surprising as forecasts indicate that food production will need to increase significantly to meet future global demand. Too little attention seems to be being paid to the current losses in the global food supply chain, which are likely to be significant.
Studies highlighted food losses that occur along food chains and assessed the extent of these losses, with an emphasis on quantitative weight losses. They collect, analyze and compile data and reports on global food losses and waste over the last few years.
Food originally intended for human consumption but accidentally exiting the human food chain is considered as food loss or waste, even if it is then destined for non-food uses (animal feed, bioenergy, etc.).
Five system boundaries have been distinguished in the food supply chains (FSC) of plant and animal products. Food losses/waste were estimated for each of these FSC segments. The following aspects were considered:
Agricultural production: Losses due to mechanical damage and/or spills during the harvesting process (e.g. threshing or harvesting of fruit), classification of post-harvest crops, etc.
Post-harvest handling and storage: including losses through spillage and decomposition during handling, storage, and transport between harvest and distribution.
Processing: includes losses due to spillage and decomposition during industrial or domestic processing, e.g. B juicing, canning and bread baking. during washing, peeling, cutting, and cooking or during process stoppages and accidental spills.
Distribution: includes losses and waste in the market system, e.g.
Consumption: includes losses and waste during household consumption.
Merchandise and animal products: Agricultural production: For cattle, pigs, and poultry, the losses relate to the death of the animal during rearing. For fish, losses relate to discards during fishing. Losses related to reduced milk production due to a disease in dairy cows (mastitis). For beef, pork, and poultry, losses relate to death during transport to slaughter and conviction at the slaughterhouse. For fish, losses relate to spillage and degradation during post-landing freezing, packaging, storage and transport. For milk, losses relate to spillage and degradation during transport between the farm and distribution. Slaughtering and industrial processing, e.g. sausage production. For fish, losses related to industrial processing such as canning or smoking. For milk, losses relate to spillage during industrial treatment of milk (e.g. pasteurization) and processing of milk, e.g. cheese and yogurt. Distribution: includes losses and waste in the market system, e.g.
The FAO estimates that about one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted each year. This food waste represents a missed opportunity to improve global food security while also reducing the environmental impact and resource consumption of food chains.
What is the impact of food waste on the environment? The overall volume of food waste is estimated at 1.6 Gt primary product equivalents, while the total waste of the edible part of food is 1.3 Gt. This amount can be compared to the total agricultural production of (for food and non-food purposes), which is about 6 Gt.
The carbon footprint of produced and unconsumed food is estimated at 3.3 Gt CO2-eq: making food waste the third largest emitter after the US and China.
The blue water footprint (i.e.consumption of surface and groundwater resources) of food waste is about 250 km3, which is equivalent to the annual flow of water from the Volga, i.e. three times the volume of Lake Geneva.
After all, the food produced but not consumed occupies almost 1,400 million hectares of land; this corresponds to about 30 percent of the agricultural area in the world. While it is difficult to estimate the impact on biodiversity globally, food waste exacerbates the negative externalities that monoculture and agricultural expansion into the wild cause through the loss of biodiversity, including mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians.
The loss of land, water, and biodiversity, as well as the adverse impacts of climate change, represent enormous costs of $750 billion for a society that remains to be quantified. With numbers like this, it seems clear that reducing food waste at global, regional, and national levels would have a significant positive impact on natural and social resources.
Reducing food waste would not only avoid pressure on scarce natural resources but would also reduce the need to increase food production by 60% to meet population demand in 2050.
By highlighting the magnitude of the environmental footprint of food waste, the results of this kind of study -by region, food type, or stage of the food supply chain- allow for prioritizing actions and defining opportunities for the contributions of different actors to solving this global challenge.