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How to reduce food waste

30% of global food production is wasted

Marina Julienne, Independent Journalist
On May 11th, 2022 |
4 mins reading time
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30% of global food production is wasted
Laurence Gouthière
Laurence Gouthière
Head of Research for Food Waste at ADEME
Key takeaways
  • In 2011, the FAO presented the first global estimate of food waste: ~1/3 of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, corresponding to about 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year.
  • In France in 2016, all food loss and waste represented ~10 million tonnes or 150 kg per person per year.
  • Several laws have been put in place to counteract food waste, such as Garot’s law in 2016, the Egalim 1 law in 2018 and the anti-waste law of 2020.
  • Companies such as Too good to go or Phenix have anticipated these laws and are already to acting by inventing original solutions to fight against food waste.

Why is it complicated to define food waste?

In France, a dis­tinc­tion is made between waste, unnec­es­sary waste, and loss­es. We talk about unnec­es­sary waste for prod­ucts that are dis­card­ed (sort­ing, over­pro­duc­tion…), lost (har­vest­ing, pro­cess­ing, trans­port…) or not con­sumed (expired, served but thrown away). It also includes parts that we do not usu­al­ly con­sume (mel­on skin, chick­en bones, cher­ry stems…), whether or not they are recov­ered. And we gen­er­al­ly use the term “loss­es” to talk about prod­ucts lost upstream, dur­ing pro­duc­tion and pro­cess­ing, because this word does not have the same neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion as “waste”.

Depend­ing on the region and cul­tur­al habits, cer­tain foods (or parts of foods) may or may not be con­sid­ered edi­ble: leek greens, cit­rus peels, fish heads are not cooked every­where in the world. More­over, in some coun­tries, food that is reused for ani­mal feed or ener­gy pro­duc­tion is not con­sid­ered as “wast­ed”. This leads to dif­fer­ences in def­i­n­i­tions, and there­fore actions, from one coun­try to another.

What are the waste figures?

In 2011, the FAO pre­sent­ed the first glob­al esti­mate: about one third of the edi­ble parts of food pro­duced for human con­sump­tion is lost or wast­ed, which cor­re­sponds to about 1.3 bil­lion tonnes of food per year. The waste is fair­ly well dis­trib­uted in all coun­tries and between the dif­fer­ent lev­els of the food chain: 1/3 upstream (pro­duc­tion), 1/3 down­stream (at con­sumer lev­el), 1/3 in between (dis­tri­b­u­tion and processing).

For France, Ademe pub­lished the most com­pre­hen­sive study in 2016 by cross-ref­er­enc­ing dif­fer­ent data and con­duct­ing over 500 qual­i­ta­tive inter­views1. In 2016, the total amount of food loss and waste was 10 mil­lion tonnes. The waste gen­er­at­ed in the home is equiv­a­lent to 30 kg per per­son per year, includ­ing 7 kg of uneat­en food waste that is still pack­aged, and rep­re­sents approx­i­mate­ly €108 per year per per­son (€240 if we con­sid­er all the loss­es and waste gen­er­at­ed through­out the chain). It should be not­ed that four times more is wast­ed in col­lec­tive and com­mer­cial cater­ing than in the home (130 g/meal com­pared to 32 g in households).

Source : Ademe (2016)

How did the battle against food waste begin?

The British start­ed as ear­ly as 2005, with the first stud­ies and var­i­ous actions put in place, but France was a pio­neer in terms of leg­is­la­tion. In the frame­work of the Nation­al Pact to Com­bat Waste in 2013, it set a tar­get for reduc­ing food loss­es. Then, in 2016, the Garot law (named after the MP Guil­laume Garot) pri­ori­tised actions to com­bat waste, banned the destruc­tion of edi­ble food, and oblig­ed shops over 400m2 to draw up a dona­tion agree­ment for food that had pre­vi­ous­ly been destroyed.

In 2018, the Egal­im 1 law extend­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of dona­tions to col­lec­tive cater­ing and the agri-food indus­try. Final­ly, the 2020 Anti-waste for a Cir­cu­lar Econ­o­my (AGEC) law extends the Garot law to the whole­sale trade and adopts tar­gets for a 50% reduc­tion in loss and waste. By 2030 for pro­duc­ers, the food indus­try, and con­sumers, by 2025 for dis­tri­b­u­tion and col­lec­tive cater­ing. These are very ambi­tious tar­gets, which aim to set an exam­ple at Euro­pean level. 

At the inter­na­tion­al lev­el, 2015 was a deci­sive year, with the adop­tion of the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals (SDGs). The objec­tive is to halve the vol­ume of food waste per capi­ta by 2030, both in dis­tri­b­u­tion and con­sump­tion, and to reduce loss­es through­out the pro­duc­tion and sup­ply chains.

In France, has this awareness already led to a reduction in waste?

There are still no reli­able indi­ca­tors to mon­i­tor the evo­lu­tion of waste. Many actors, whether upstream (farm­ers and breed­ers) or down­stream (notably com­mer­cial cater­ing, trades­men, house­holds), only have a vague idea of what they lose, and often tend to under­es­ti­mate it. As for man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors, they are often faced with a prob­lem of data confidentiality. 

But a Euro­pean direc­tive makes it com­pul­so­ry, from 2023 onwards, for each coun­try to pub­lish a glob­al waste fig­ure every four years and a fig­ure per item every year: col­lec­tive and indi­vid­ual cater­ing, house­holds, etc.

Our objec­tive at Ademe is to set up tools to help actors at each link in the chain to make diag­noses and define their reduc­tion actions. We have already devel­oped such tools, for exam­ple for can­teens, which help man­agers to mea­sure waste and then reduce it2, or for food man­u­fac­tur­ers3. The impor­tant thing is to get the ball rolling, to show the var­i­ous play­ers that it is pos­si­ble and prof­itable since it allows them to save on pro­duc­tion costs.

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Do you think the 50% reduction target is realistic?

It is very ambi­tious, because it is often quite sim­ple to reduce loss­es by 30%, but to reach 50% requires real reflec­tion and changes in behav­iour. But peo­ple are sup­port­ed, it is fea­si­ble. In 2019, as part of a “zero waste acad­e­my” oper­a­tion, we recruit­ed 243 house­holds who agreed to assess their waste and then fol­low « anti-waste » ges­tures. One year after the start of the sur­vey, they weighed the dis­card­ed food prod­ucts again: they had reduced their waste by 59%!

Are the resources devoted to the fight against waste sufficient?

They are decreas­ing. Although sig­nif­i­cant resources were put in place in 2016 and 2017, it has been dif­fi­cult to mobilise them since. It is how­ev­er essen­tial to have relays in the ter­ri­to­ries such as the REseaux de Lutte con­tre le Gaspillage Ali­men­taire (REGAL) which help to raise aware­ness among all the actors. It would also be nec­es­sary to run a major nation­al infor­ma­tion cam­paign on this issue.

For­tu­nate­ly, in civ­il soci­ety, com­pa­nies such as Too Good to Go and Phenix have not wait­ed to act and are effec­tive­ly shak­ing up pub­lic author­i­ties and con­sumers alike by invent­ing orig­i­nal solu­tions to com­bat waste. 

1https://​librairie​.ademe​.fr/​d​e​c​h​e​t​s​-​e​c​o​n​o​m​i​e​-​c​i​r​c​u​l​a​i​r​e​/​2​4​3​5​-​e​t​a​t​-​d​e​s​-​l​i​e​u​x​-​d​e​s​-​m​a​s​s​e​s​-​d​e​-​g​a​s​p​i​l​l​a​g​e​s​-​a​l​i​m​e​n​t​a​i​r​e​s​-​e​t​-​d​e​-​s​a​-​g​e​s​t​i​o​n​-​a​u​x​-​d​i​f​f​e​r​e​n​t​e​s​-​e​t​a​p​e​s​-​d​e​-​l​a​-​c​h​a​i​n​e​-​a​l​i​m​e​n​t​a​i​r​e​.html
2https://​www​.optigede​.ademe​.fr/​a​l​i​m​e​n​t​a​t​i​o​n​-​d​u​r​a​b​l​e​-​r​e​s​t​a​u​r​a​t​i​o​n​-​c​o​l​l​e​c​t​i​v​e​-​o​u​t​i​l​s​-​p​r​a​t​iques
3https://​www​.optigede​.ademe​.fr/​a​l​i​m​e​n​t​a​t​i​o​n​-​d​u​r​a​b​l​e​-​I​A​A​-​b​o​i​t​e​s​-​o​u​t​i​l​s​-​d​i​a​g​n​ostic