Combating Food Waste (Infographic)

Did you know that 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is uneaten, resulting in at least 62.5 million tons of wasted food annually?

Or that a mere 10 percent of food is recovered each year across the entire supply chain?

And that one-third of all food produced in the world is never eaten, which has tremendous economic, social and environmental consequences?

New research is shedding light on ways to combat the issue of food waste.

A report prepared on behalf of Champions 12.3 finds that for every $1 companies invested to reduce food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. The report finds that household savings could be much greater.

For every $1 companies invested to reduce food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs.

In a first-of-its kind analysis, The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste evaluated financial cost and benefit data for 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries, finding that nearly every site realized a positive return on its investment to reduce food waste. The types of investments companies made include: quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on practices to reduce waste, changing food storage and handling processes, changing packaging to extend shelf-life, changing date labels, and other staff and technology investments.

The 14:1 return on investment comes from not buying food that would have been lost or wasted, increasing the share of food that is sold to customers, introducing new product lines made from food that otherwise would have been lost or wasted, reducing waste management costs and other savings.

“A third of the world’s food is wasted – and yet almost a billion people go to bed hungry each night. That simply cannot be right. But even if the moral imperative doesn’t move us, the clear business case should swing people to act. What this research shows is that there’s now no social, environmental or economic reason why we should not come together and take action to reduce food waste,” said Dave Lewis, Group Chief Executive of Tesco and Chair of Champions 12.3.

Government Action Saves Consumers Money

The research also finds that savings for consumers could be enormous. From 2007 to 2012, the United Kingdom ran a nationwide initiative to reduce household food waste. This included consumer education through the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign via in-store messaging on proper food storage and preparation and use of leftovers; product innovations like re-sealable salad bags, changes to pack size and formats and date labelling; and financing to establish baseline data on food waste and monitor progress on reduction.

During this period, for every £1 the government, companies and the non-profit organization WRAP invested in these efforts to curb household food waste, consumers and local government saved £250. Over the first five years of this initiative, avoidable household food waste was reduced 21 percent. Figures released for 2012-2015 show that progress has stalled, which emphasises the need to regularly evaluate, review and adjust approaches to food waste reduction.

At a time of economic strain for many families, throwing away less food is a valuable way to put money back in people’s pockets. In the UK, the average household with children discards approximately £700 of edible food each year. In the United States, the average family of four wastes roughly $1,500 annually on food that goes into the garbage.

“Our experience suggests that there are two main barriers to food waste reduction: a lack of awareness of the scale of food waste in the business and the home and the business case for change,” said Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP. “This groundbreaking report we wrote with WRI shows there is a clear business case for tackling food waste for businesses, municipalities and governments. Given this analysis, our message is simple; target, measure and act.  Above all act.  It makes sense socially, environmentally and above all economically.”

City Investments in Curbing Food Waste Pay Off

In 2012, six London boroughs piloted a local-level Love Food Hate Waste campaign led by WRAP, ultimately saving local authorities £8 in avoided waste disposal costs for every £1 invested, and an average of £84 for households participating. After just six months, households had reduced their waste by 15 percent. London’s experience indicates great potential for other cities to save money and food by taking action to reduce food loss and waste. Other cities that are starting to tackle food waste, starting with measuring the problem, include Denver, Nashville, New York, and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia).

“The success we saw in the United Kingdom proves that it’s possible to make real inroads in reducing food waste,” said Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director of Food Loss and Waste at World Resources Institute and the new Chair of the London Waste and Recycling Board. “The challenge now is to get every country, major city and company to realise that reducing food loss and waste is a win-win. There are far too many tough, intractable problems in the world – food loss and waste doesn’t have to be one of them.”

A new report from the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) provides a road map for the federal government to remove the barriers limiting the amount of food that makes it to those in need.  Don’t Waste, Donate: Enhancing Food Donations Through Federal Policy is a first-of-its kind report that offers actions the federal government can and should take to better align federal laws and policies with the objective of increasing the donation of safe surplus food to address the dual issues of food waste and food insecurity facing the United States. 

For example, if an entire manufacturing run of yogurt has a misprint with the wrong number of ounces on it, currently a company would not benefit from the liability protections or tax incentives meant to encourage food donation unless every container is re-labeled. These types of hurdles do nothing to protect consumers and everything to discourage food donations. Fortunately, simple changes to federal policy can reduce these senseless barriers.

Don’t Waste, Donate offers 16 actionable recommendations spanning five key areas of federal policy that can go a long way toward promoting food donation and helping the federal government meet its goal of a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. The report recommends policy changes that would:

  • Enhance liability protections for food donations 
  • Improve federal tax incentives for food donations 
  • Standardize and clarify expiration date labels 
  • Better monitor and encourage food donation by federal agencies 
  • Modernize and clarify food safety guidance for food donations 

“If even a quarter of the recommendations in the report are embraced and implemented, millions of pounds of wholesome food will make it to those in need instead of clogging up our landfills,” said Emily Broad Leib, Director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. “Don’t Waste, Donate isn’t meant to sit on a bookshelf, or online, and gather dust. It’s a guide to adopting real change that can have a meaningful effect for millions of Americans. We want to see a real response from leadership to the recommendations we are placing before them.”

“Good food shouldn’t go to waste when so many people in this country are in need,” added JoAnne Berkenkamp, Senior Advocate in the Food and Agriculture program at NRDC. “Updating federal food donation policies will help more organizations donate wholesome, healthy and safe food rather than tossing it, providing a much-needed safety net in our communities.”