Up to one-third of all food produced is never eaten by people, and this food loss and waste is responsible for $940 billion in economic losses and 8 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls on all nations to halve food waste and reduce food loss by 2030, but nations, cities and businesses in the food supply chain need to move more quickly to set reduction targets, measure their progress and taken action if the goal is to be achieved.
The SDG Target 12.3 on Food Loss and Waste: 2016 Progress Report, recently released on behalf of a coalition of government, business and civil society leaders called Champions 12.3, assessed the world’s progress toward Target 12.3. The report recommends that every country, major city and company involved in the food supply chain should: set food loss and waste reduction targets consistent with Target 12.3 in order to ensure sufficient attention and focus; quantify and report on food loss and waste as well as monitor progress over time through 2030; and accelerate and scale up adoption of policies, incentives, investment and practices that reduce food loss and waste.
With the adoption of the SDGs, all nations implicitly agreed to do their part towards a total of 169 targets, but the report asserts that to they must set specific reduction targets for their countries. The United States (U.S.) and European Union (E.U.) have set targets that account for both losses and waste, and the African Union aims to halve current levels of post-harvest losses by 2025.
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Africa’s slightly different focus makes sense given that food losses during production and storage are a far larger issue in developing nations than losses at the market or consumption stage. Over three-quarters (76 percent) of food losses and waste in Sub-Saharan Africa occurs during the production and handling and storage stages. In developed regions, however, food waste is far more common in the consumption stage. This final stage of the food supply chain – after it has been distributed and when should be eaten – is where 61 percent of food losses occur in North America and Oceania. The figure is 52 percent in Europe and 46 percent in industrialized Asia.
The report recommends that targets be set by governments of developing countries outside of Africa, major emerging economies, and at the sub-national level, including cities. Furthermore, the authors note that food waste targets should be set in Africa, where food waste is increasingly becoming an issue.
Some organizations and groups have already announced commitments in line with Target 12.3, including the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which aims to halve food waste within their individual retail and manufacturing operations by 2025 against a 2016 baseline. The CGF is a network of over 400 stakeholders representing combined annual sales of $2.8 trillion. Examples of how their members are taking action was recently released in the CGF’s first-ever Food Waste Booklet.
Another notable initiative is Courtauld 2025, a voluntary commitment among more than 100 businesses and government agencies to reduce food and drink waste in the United Kingdom (U.K.) by 20 percent per capita between 2015 and 2025. Not only could it put the U.K. on track to meet Target 12.3, but it could save the industry £20 billion.
The Champions 12.3 report notes a gap among agribusiness companies and associations involved with food production, as well as the food service and hospitality sectors, and recommends such organizations set targets.
The U.K., E.U., U.S., and Japan have all begun measuring and monitoring progress on food loss and waste. The U.K., which in the past has been criticised as one of the worst culprits for food waste per capita, has developed some of the most extensive estimates of country-level food waste in the world, largely thanks to WRAP, which has published estimates in 2007, 2010, 2012, and 2016. Japan has been collecting post-farm gate food loss and waste data since 2001.
The report asserts that more governments need to begin tracking as well, continue to use and release publicly-available data on food loss and waste by geography and food category, and stage in the value chain.
Although many companies measure and report on overall material waste levels, few specifically report on food loss and waste. Some, such as Tesco, Unilever and Nestlé have begun to make the distinction. Trade organizations have also begun to assist, such as the Food Waste Reduction Alliance in the U.S..
A new Food Loss and Waste Accounting Standard (FLW Standard) was released earlier this year to provide global requirements and guidance for quantifying and reporting on the weight of food and/or associated inedible parts removed from the food supply chain. Both countries and companies can use it to quantify base-year food loss and waste inventories, as well as track progress over time.
Knowing where and how much food is being lost and wasted, entities can prioritize actions to tackle the hotspots. Exactly what needs to be done varies among countries and by stage in the supply chain. In developing nations, investing in better infrastructure to improve storage, processing, and transportation will be critical, while in developed nations, redistribution programs for surplus food or food donations, improved date labelling, and better education among retailers and consumers will be vital.
The Champions 12.3 report notes that the political and business cases must be better articulated in order to help motivate more governments and companies to take immediate action on food loss and waste. Furthermore, more financing for food loss and waste reduction technologies, processes, research, and awareness-raising is needed, and projects need to become more investment-ready. Finally, capacity building needs to accelerate so that best practices, innovation, and know-how can disseminate even more quickly. Among other areas, capacity building is needed on how actors can collaborate across the food supply chain to implement systemic, long-term solutions and is needed in emerging economies, where waste levels are high but engagement on the issue thus far is low.