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Reducing food waste could reduce damage to the environment

Experts contribute to World Bank report which found reducing food waste could improve food security and environmental sustainability.

by City Press Office (General enquiries)

Reducing food loss and waste could play a significant role in cutting the environmental footprint of the food we produce, and boost food and nutrition security, a new report from the World Bank has found.

As part of a team for the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) - a group of experts working toward a sustainable, resource-efficient economy – Dr Christian Reynolds, Lecturer at the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, and visiting researcher at the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food, contributed to the report which found that investments in reducing food loss and waste (FLW) could lead to significant improvements for food security and environmental sustainability.

For the past 120 years, increasing the yields of a few staple crops has been the focus for producing enough food globally. However, this agri-food system is now considered unsustainable, endangering the environment and failing to meet the calorific and nutrient needs of a population expected to increase by three billion people in the next 30 years.

Progress in reducing FLW by countries who committed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 has been patchy, and current estimates suggest that globally, 30 percent of the food produced each year is wasted at the farming, transport and processing stages, or at the retail and consumer levels.

The recent coronavirus pandemic has also brought to light the instability of global food supply chains and a new reliance on domestic supplies, which led to producers destroying unsold goods.

Addressing Food Loss and Waste: A Global Problem with Local Solutions took data for food commodities (such as chicken, bread, fruit and milk) in the UK, Rwanda, Vietnam and Nigeria and used a simulation model to understand how these food supply chains perform when under pressure to identify solutions for a new sustainable model of food production.

The researchers found the best policy options for reducing FLW would depend on a country’s specific circumstances, such as whether targeting waste at consumer or production level would be viable for better managing a country’s greenhouse gas emissions; whether cheaper food prices of basic commodities encouraged waste, and whether reclaiming that waste could bolster food security.

Dr Reynolds commented:



The World Bank has written a game changing report. This report clearly shows that reductions in food loss and waste could play a significant role in reducing the environmental footprint of food while boosting food and nutrition security. The evidence is clear, we need to act now at local, national, and global scales to reduce food loss and waste.

This report sets out a global economic case for reducing food loss and waste, for the first time we have the answers to questions including: would higher food prices reflecting environmental values reduce food loss and waste? Would less food loss and waste reduce the environmental footprint of food systems and improve food security? And at which stage of the food supply chain would reducing food loss and waste be most effective?”

Dr Reynolds and other experts, including from the University of Sheffield and the University of Bristol, have started to put those practical recommendations into place by working with WRAP to produce a Household Simulation Model (HHSim). This ground-breaking model helps users to understand the household dynamics that can affect food waste, such as purchasing, storage and consumption. It has been designed to determine which changes to people’s behaviour and food products can lead to the largest reductions in food waste. WRAP now uses the HHSim to inform discussion with British food manufacturers and supermarkets on how to make longer lasting and less wasteful products.

Insight from this model has supported changes to the labelling of milk that should lead to less being wasted. It has also been used to highlight the role that long-life products have in preventing waste. Further insight from this model has led to the redesign of milk and dairy products such as Arla Cravendale milk, as well as the pack and portion size options for many meat products - such as bacon and ham.

Find out more

Read the World Bank Report, ‘Addressing Food Loss and Waste: A Global Problem with Local Solutions’.

Visit the Institute for Sustainable Food, at the University of Sheffield.

Visit the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London.

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