The amount of food that is wasted each year will rise by a third by 2030, when 2.1bn tonnes will either be lost or thrown away, equivalent to 66 tonnes per second, according to a new analysis. The report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) warns that the global response to food waste is fragmented and inadequate and that the problem is growing at an alarming rate. The report suggests the creation of an ecolabel, similar to fair trade campaigns, to encourage customers to buy from companies that have committed to reducing waste. “The scale of the problem is one that will continue to grow while we’re developing our solutions,” said Shalini Unnikrishnan, a partner and managing director at BCG. “As the population grows rapidly in certain industrialising parts of the world, like in Asia, consumption is growing very rapidly.”
Each year, 1.6bn tonnes of food worth approximately $1.2tn goes to waste – about one-third of the food produced globally. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 815 million of the 7.6 billion people in the world (10.7%), were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016. Food waste and loss accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the FAO. Unless urgent action is taken by governments, companies and consumers, the report warns there is little chance of meeting UN targets to halve food waste by 2030. Over this period, food loss and waste are projected to increase in most regions around the world, with a significant spike in Asia, according to the study.
Countries that are industrialising and have a growing population will see the largest increases, said Unnikrishnan. “As wealth grows, people are demanding more food, more diverse food, food that is not grown locally. That’s going to increase food loss and waste.” At the same time, there are inefficiencies in the supply of food in such countries. “There are still a lot of smallholder farmers, there are still a lot of gaps in our ability to fully utilise the production that is happening,” she added. While in developing countries waste occurs during production processes, in wealthy countries waste is mostly driven by retailers and consumers, who throw away food because they have purchased too much or because it does not meet aesthetic standards.
Supermarket promotions and a lack of accurate information have contributed to waste, the report warned. Many customers wrongly believe that meat and vegetables are always healthier when fresh than when frozen. “The opposite is often true: frozen food products frequently retain more nutrients than unfrozen items, which can degrade during the shipping process,” the report said. Companies have experimented with waste reduction initiatives, such as Tesco’s buy one get one free pilot, which allows customers to pick up their free product when they need it. But the report stated such efforts do not go far enough. The creation of an ecolabel could encourage companies to work harder.
The report said companies have been slow to adopt digital tools that enable better matching of supply and demand. It urged companies to show leadership by investing in infrastructure, as well as education for consumers, company employees and farmers. Changes in government regulation, which do not incentivise waste reduction, are also needed, said Unnikrishnan. “If you’re a producer trying to produce blueberries, you’re dealing with size restrictions, storage restrictions, expiration date restrictions,” she said, adding that these will restrictions will vary across markets. In China, for example, there are rules regarding the size of fresh blueberries that can be sold. There is more awareness of food loss and waste, but that the global response so far is inadequate. “It’s fragmented, limited and ultimately insufficient given the magnitude of the problem,” she said. “It’s not an easy problem, no single country, no single entity can solve the entire problem on their own.”
Credit: Rebecca Ratcliffe for The Guardian, 20 August 2018.