How Business Can Help Stop Food Waste

by | Sep 12, 2013

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UNFAOIf the global food waste problem is to be tackled, food industry businesses need to raise awareness about the issue, improve communication in their supply chains and develop better food harvest, storage and transportation processes, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report and its accompanying toolkit.

The world currently wastes 1.3 billion metric tons of food per year, causing major economic losses but also wreaking significant harm on the natural resources that humanity relies upon to feed itself, according to Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources.

According to the report, each year, food that is produced but not eaten guzzles up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River and is responsible for adding 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the planet’s atmosphere. Beyond its environmental impacts, the direct economic consequences to producers of food waste (excluding fish and seafood) run to the tune of $750 billion annually, the report says.

The FAO also released a toolkit aimed at explaining what can be done to combat the problem. According to the toolkit, high priority should be given to reducing food waste in the first place. Beyond improving losses of crops on farms due to poor practices, doing more to better balance production with demand would mean not using natural resources to produce unneeded food.

Businesses can move toward this by raising awareness about the issue, the toolkit says.  Retailers have started campaigns on better shopping and better food management at home. For example, UK grocery chain Sainsbury’s provides advice on how to properly store produce and launched a “Love Your Leftovers” campaign, which includes a page on their web site providing recipes and ideas on how to utilize left-over food.

Due to miscommunication and what the FAO calls “perverse signals and incentives” all along the supply chain, food — and all the natural resources used to create it — is lost or wasted.

Waste caused by overproduction – when a manufacturer makes more of a product than the supermarket can actually sell – can reach up to 56 percent of a company’s total output (meaning more food wasted than sold), while a baseline of 5 percent to 7 percent is considered inevitable by many, the report says. This waste typically occurs when a supermarket makes a large “forecast order” of, for example, a week in advance, but can not confirm the order before, at best, 24 hours before delivery date. The manufacturer has to produce all the sandwiches in advance to meet the deadline but the supermarket will very often lower the order. An improvement in communications here would cut waste, the toolkit says.

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