What can be done about food waste?

It is a little known fact that the European Union has a target for reducing food waste, aiming to reduce the 2011 level by half by 2020. Astonishingly, it was estimated that 89 million tonnes of food were wasted in 2011 across the European Union. As part of their efforts to reach their target, the European Commission have recently launched a public consultation on the subject.

In response, the House of Lords European Union Committee has launched an inquiry, seeking to establish a common understanding of the issue, identify and scrutinise proposed EU-level solutions, consider their implications and identify any areas for further research. Some of the questions they will be asking are;

  • Why is food waste a significant issue to be tackled and how does it fit with wider objectives of sustainable, inclusive and smart economic growth?
  • How should food waste be defined and how can it be monitored?
  • What are the principle causes of food waste in the EU? What role can EU regulation and guidance play in preventing it?
  • What economic drivers are in place to prevent food waste? What further efforts would be desirable?
  • How realistic is the Commission’s aspiration to half food waste by 2020?
  • What are the economic, social and environmental implications of food waste prevention?

In launching their inquiry, and calling for written evidence from any and all interested parties, Baroness Ros Scott, Chair of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy, said:

It is shocking to think that 89 million tonnes of food is wasted in Europe ever year. That amounts to 180kg of food through away by every man, woman and child across the EU.

The European Commission has set an ambitious target to reduce food waste. Reducing 89 million tonnes by half by 2020 would be a massive achievement. It remains to be seen, however, whether it can live up to that ambition.

Written evidence is sought by 27 September 2013. Public hearings will be held over the period October-December 2013. The Committee aims to report to the House, with recommendations, in late March 2014. The report will receive responses from the Government and the European Commission, and may be debated in the House.

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  • Perhaps the Lords’ investigation should also look at the “economic drivers” of food waste itself, as well as the possibility of any in place facilitating prevention?

  • I believe the figures include bones, bacon rind, orange peel, teabags etc but even so I find it hard to credit. A pound of food per head per day discarded? Really? Even the most wasteful people I know don’t produce half that.

    Surely this figure must include failed crops discarded at the point of production, imported goods gone off in distribution and so on. So to describe it as thrown away by domestic end users, or to imply such, is unhelpful and lacks credibility. It just makes me wonder what pretext is about to be used to squeeze our wallets further.

  • I believe much is at shop / supermarket level, so it is about distribution as well as household behaviour.

    Ann K – by writing about “squeezing our wallets further”, do you have some view about what may come out of this initiative? And what wider economic lessons we could learn at this stage, or after the consultation has been done?

  • @Tim13
    Ann K is right to be slightly cynical about how this will actually play out.

    From my understanding most food waste (like packaging waste and energy waste) arises in the supply chain: hence fields (yes fields) of crops that are left to be dug back in (for example due to poor quality and/or prices, contracted crops that are not required that the farmer is unable to resell) are included in the food waste figures.

    However, as we have seen with packaging waste, the politicians have focused on consumer waste – largely because it is obvious to people and the cost of disposal is known, hence why we now sort our domestic waste for recycling. However, successive governments have shied away from forcing the supply chain to reduce the amount of packaging it uses and imposing recycling requirements. Instead the government has supported the development of various ‘green’ ISO Standards for the reduction of waste, that business’es voluntarily adopt.

    Similar strategies have been adopted for with respect to energy. this isn’t to say that consumer waste isn’t important, only that it isn’t the only area where waste occurs.

  • In this case, Roland, I absolutely agree. It is noticeable in recycling that commercial waste has largely been separated (physically as well as process wise and conceptually). I have desultorily tried to bring in a reconnection – with not much help from anyone, I must say! As you say, energy is a key example of this in practise, also.

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