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Waste Not
Can We Halve Global Food Waste by 2030? Not Without Our Suppliers

While some nations and food companies have made encouraging progress and crossed the halfway mark towards meeting Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, there’s still a long way to go.

The food waste challenge is huge. According to World Resources Institute (WRI), a third of all food produced in the world is still being lost or wasted. This amounts to $940 billion in losses every year, contributing 8 percent of global greenhouse gases.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the problem — with farm-level losses increasing thanks to disruptions in the supply chain and many restaurants going out of business.

Even before COVID, food waste was a problem that has, quite rightly, demanded its very own UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Target 12.3 asks for a 50 percent reduction in food loss and waste worldwide by 2030. To achieve it will demand a scaled up and consistent approach to make any real progress, with multiple stakeholders all pulling in the same direction.

But halving food waste is absolutely doable.

That’s the message from the WRI-backed initiative known as 10x20x30, which launched last month. Speaking at the virtual launch of its latest progress report today, Liz Goodwin — WRI’s Director of Food Loss and Waste — said that while the world is “woefully behind” in meeting the 2030 goal, signs of progress give cause for hope.

“Sadly, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem at every stage, with food thrown away or not harvested because markets have collapsed. But there have also been positive signs — with food waste falling by 34 percent since lockdown in the UK, as people start to value their food more.”

More than ten of the biggest food producers and retailers are part of the scheme, each asking at least 20 of their suppliers — including 200+ farmers, processors and manufacturers — to commit to halving their food waste within the next ten years. The companies are invited to use a ‘Target-Measure-Act’ approach that was pioneered by Champions 12.3 — a voluntary coalition of execs from business and government who have rallied in meeting target 12.3. It involves setting a food waste goal, assessing progress regularly and taking action where necessary to reduce the ‘hotspots’ of where food loss is happening.

It is something that the UK supermarket Tesco has been using successfully since 2017. Initially, it invited 27 of its suppliers to adopt the approach. Now, 71 of its suppliers have published data on their food loss and waste. For Dave Lewis, the company’s Group Chief Executive and Chair of Champions 12.3, the ‘Target-Measure-Act’ approach has been crucially important in pursuing food waste and loss.

“It allows for consistent measurement across the world which, in turns, makes it easier to share best practice and take actions we know will work,” Lewis said at today’s virtual event. “It’s also striking that countries and companies that have set climate change commitments are not integrating food waste into their strategies — they should.”

It is an issue that the US retailer Walmart knows all too well. Speaking at the launch event, Jane Ewing, SVP for Sustainability, was quick to point out that food waste is very much a part of the company’s latest commitment to the planet, including a target to achieve zero emissions in its own operations by 2040. “When food is wasted, so are resources and natural wildlife. Most of our food waste happens upstream and downstream, so that’s why we’re excited to be a part of 10x20x30.”

Another of the initiative’s ‘champions’ is Campbell’s Soup, one of the largest food-processing companies in the US. The firm has achieved a 36 percent reduction in food loss and waste in the last three years alone; this started by setting the 12.3 target for its own operations. It now repurposes ‘wasted’ food to make new items. For example, in one of its subsidiaries, bread that would have gone to waste is sold to another company to make breadcrumbs. Meanwhile, scraps and discards from manufacturing are now diverted to make animal feed. In its potato-chip production, waste food oil is recycled into biofuels.

Today, more than ten big food businesses are part of the initiative — including IKEA Food, Walmart, Carrefour, Kroger and METRO AG. The group now includes six of the world’s largest supermarket chains, the world’s second-largest food service provider; and some of the biggest retailers in southern Africa, the Middle East and Japan.

Combined, the firms have a presence in more than 80 countries and will engage more than 200 suppliers between them. The Walmart Foundation has invested money to offer support, via WRI, with training and technical assistance on cutting food waste.

But it’s not just businesses leading the charge. The Champions 12.3 group was also keen to highlight the UK as a beacon of hope in making sure governments play a big role.

Earlier this year, the UK Government said it had cut food waste by 27 percent since it began measuring how much food was going to waste across the country back in 2007. “We’ve had success in the UK because we know who is wasting food and why – and we adopt a ‘test, learn and adapt’ model. We need to do more of that,” says Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP. Its public-private programme, known as the Courtauld Commitment, has been backed by most of the country’s big retailers and local authorities — with companies voluntarily measuring their food loss and waste levels, identifying solutions and reporting on progress. The ongoing Love Food Hate Waste campaign has had similar success, giving advice to households and raising awareness of the issue.

Long story short: While some nations and companies have made encouraging progress and crossed the halfway mark towards meeting SDG 12.3, there’s still a long way to go.