How to feed people and not landfills

Understanding the nature of food waste, why reducing it is crucial for the sustainable development of our planet and what we can all do about it

От Natalia Ilieva, публикувана на 10 юни 2016

From an environmental perspective, food waste is an extremely inefficient use of resources.

According to a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food loss and waste accounts for about 3.3 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Large amounts of water and fertilizer also go into the production of this food that never reaches human mouths. This is a big environmental cost to pay for food from which humans derive little to no use. The Sustainable Development Goals call for the reduction of food waste in half by 2030. If met, this ambitious target will not only boost food security, but also improve livelihoods, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save land and water. In short, curbing food waste is both a goal in itself and a means of achieving other SDGs.

From a food security perspective, reducing food loss and waste is a major opportunity to close the calorie gap between where the world is now and where it needs to be to sustainably feed the planet. The world currently faces a roughly 70 percent gap between the crop calories produced today and those that will be needed to feed a projected population of more than 9.5 billion people in 2050. Recovering some of this lost and wasted food can help close that gap while strengthening livelihoods and improving food security— without requiring any additional environmental costs.

Illustrations by Rebecca Osses

First of all, what is food waste?

A first definition of food waste was given by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and includes any healthy or edible substance that – instead of being destined for human consumption – is wasted, lost, degraded, or consumed by parasites at every stage of the food supply chain. Recently, however, a necessary distinction has been established between food loss and food waste with the latter occurring at the end of the food chain because of behavioral factors. One definition for food waste proposed by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition is the waste that takes place during industrial processing, distribution, and final consumption. Also included in this are intentional choices, based on which perfectly edible food is discarded and thrown away.

Why does reducing the levels of food waste matter?

Every year around the globe 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted. That is one-third of all food produced for human consumption. Apart from wasting large amounts of food in a world where around 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth. Food loss and waste also result in a needless waste of resources including water, land, energy, as well as labour and capital. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a report estimating that 28% of land in agriculture and water equal to three times the volume of Lake Geneva are being used to grow food that is never eaten, globally.

The food sector is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and if food wastage (as they call the combination of all food lost or wasted in the food system) were a country, it would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions (after China and the U.S.) contributing to global warming and climate change. Once in landfills, food breaks down to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. 1.4 billion hectares of land is used to produce uneaten food. This is almost 30% of the world’s agricultural land area. 250km3 water (fresh surface and groundwater) is used for the agricultural production of food wastage – this is higher than the consumption of any country (while 700m people around the world suffer from water scarcity.

In the EU, around 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually

most of which could be avoided by both consumers and food retailers through redistribution, collaboration and raising awareness about the scale of the issue.  According to the European Commission the food resources being lost and wasted in Europe would be enough to feed all the hungry people in the world two times over.

As a part of their strategy to meet the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September 2015

Member States aim to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030 and also reduce food losses along the food production and supply chains. If nothing is done, however, food waste could rise to over 120 million tonnes by 2020.

Where does Bulgaria stand?

According to the Preparatory Study on Food Waste across the EU, around 670 000 tonnes of food are wasted in Bulgaria annually. This means that on average each of us is responsible for the disposal of approximately 90-100 kg of still good to eat food per year, while 1.5 million Bulgarians live below the poverty line with less than 330 levs each month.

Bulgarian Food Bank has managed to redistribute 250 tonnes of edible food in 2015. That is, unfortunately, just a 0.03% of the whole amount of wastage.

What is a major obstacle for the preservation of more food is the current legislation on food donations. Paradoxically, it is much more costly for a food retailer to donate its surplus food so that it gets redistributed to the needy, rather than dispose it as a 20% VAT is imposed on food donations in Bulgaria and there are no reductions available. In comparison, VAT on food is generally zero-rated in the UK. In France, there is no VAT anticipated on donated food. Belgium has abandoned the VAT provisions for food donors on donated food. The same goes for Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Portugal. In Spain, the tax rate for most types of food is reduced to 10%, however certain fast moving consumer goods are taxed at 4%.

These are some good legislative practices that could serve as an example on our way to reducing the waste of perfectly edible food in the poorest member state of the EU. Until legislative changes that would provoke more food donations and redistribution take place we could all aim to plan our meals, buy only what we need, prolong food life, use proper storage, eat leftovers and in general monitor the quantity of our food waste.


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