New research lays out action plan showing governments and businesses how to tackle food loss and waste

Washington, D.C. (August 29, 2019) — New research from top food and agriculture experts suggests the world is at a critical moment in the fight against food loss and waste. The report Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda finds momentum is building to address the 1.3 billion tons of food that is lost or wasted each year – but not yet at a pace needed – and proposes a global action agenda to successfully meet the United Nations’ call to halve food loss and waste by 2030.  

Released at the World Food Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, the report has been produced by World Resources Institute with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, and in partnership with United Nations Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Iowa State University, The University of Maryland’s Ed Snider Center, The Consortium for Innovation in Postharvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction, Wageningen University and Research, the World Bank, and WRAP. The report is designed to guide businesses, governments, civil society, and others in the food system to play an active role in tackling food loss and waste, individually and collectively.  

“There’s more public and private sector activity than ever – with 30 of the world’s largest global food companies setting targets to reduce food loss and waste – but we’re still falling short in major areas,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute. “Halving food loss and waste by 2030 is critical if we’re to feed the world without destroying the planet. The three-pronged agenda we’re urging gives the world a blueprint for success, with clear and specific action items everyone from crop farmers to hoteliers must take now to combat this waste.”

“Addressing food loss and waste is an underappreciated strategy for also promoting economic security, mitigating climate change, addressing hunger, and ensuring more people have the opportunity to eat a diet rich in nutritious food,” said Roy Steiner, Managing Director, Food Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation. “We have an opportunity now, across the public and private sectors, to scale up solutions and create meaningful impact for both people and our planet.”  

Nearly a third of all food produced in the world goes uneaten each year, an amount that costs the global economy $940 billion and emits 8% of planet-warming greenhouse gases. At the same time, 1 in 9 people is undernourished. Looking across the entire food supply chain, from farm to plate, the report pinpoints prime opportunities for governments and business to reduce such inefficiency and waste. 

“Addressing food loss and waste is critical to addressing climate change and the Global Action Agenda offers us a strategy that we can act on immediately. Generating 8% of greenhouse gas emissions, food loss and waste offers a vital and unexploited opportunity for countries to raise the ambition of Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement, while delivering on the SDGs,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment.

The three-pronged action agenda includes:

  • Governments and companies should follow an approach of “Target- Measure-Act”: Adopt a target to halve food loss and waste by 2030, measure how much and where food is being lost and wasted, and take action on the hotspots.
  • All actors in the food supply chain should kick-start their actions by pursuing a sector-specific “to-do” list, as outlined in the report. For example, crop farmers could engage their customers to explore changes in quality specifications that can enable more of what is harvested to be sold, packinghouses could build near-farm facilities to convert unmarketable crops and by-products into value-added products, and retailers could educate consumers about better food management such as how to store food correctly.
  • Governments and business leaders should pursue 10 “scaling interventions” to accelerate the impact and pace of sector-specific actions. The 10 interventions tackle food loss and waste across the entire supply chain, target a handful of food loss and waste hotspots, and help set the enabling policy and financial conditions that are necessary for success. They range from developing national strategies for reducing food loss and waste, to shifting consumer social norms so wasting food is seen as unacceptable, to overcoming the deficit in data on how much food is lost and wasted in countries and businesses.

“The global action agenda we’re proposing rests on big, bold ideas. I’m happy to say some are already underway, such as a rise in national public-private partnerships and new financing. Others would break fresh ground. We know this is ambitious, but when we look at the amount of food that is lost and wasted, it’s clear that such a massive challenge demands massive action,” said Katie Flanagan, Associate, World Resources Institute and lead author of the report.

“The shocking scale of food waste demonstrates the inequality and unsustainability of our dysfunctional global food system. Tackling food loss and waste is proven to be good for the health of the planet, and the human race. The global action agenda is an important document which shows us how through greater collaboration, ambition, and courage, we can achieve this,” said Marcus Gover, Chief Executive, WRAP.

“The solutions to the global food waste crisis are many and interconnected—but they are also entirely achievable. We’re already starting to see incremental progress, and by embracing best practices across the board—from farm to supermarkets, restaurants, and homes—we can meet this goal. In the process, we can save money, save water, fight climate change and feed more people around the world,” said Elizabeth Balkan, Food Waste Director, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Achieving a 50% reduction in food loss and waste would bring enormous benefits, including closing the gap between food that will be needed to feed everyone in 2050 and food available in 2010 by more than 20 percent, avoiding the demand to convert an area of natural ecosystems the size of Argentina into agricultural land between 2010 and 2050, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050. That’s an amount more than the current energy- and industry- related emissions of Japan.

Recognizing the potential benefits, nearly 40 executives from government, business and civil society came together in 2015 to create Champions 12.3, a coalition dedicated to helping the world achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3 on food loss and waste. This report is a response to the coalition’s call for global action, and several of the organizations involved in the report’s writing are led by Champions – including WRI, The Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank, WRAP, NRDC and Wageningen University and Research.

Read the report here.