Since the year 2000, local and national governments have dramatically increased the number of initiatives focused on addressing the problem of food waste. Now, governments in more than 20 countries around the world are taking action to reduce food waste, according to a new report from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF). The recent growth in government-led initiatives targeting food waste reflects increasing public awareness of the issue and its impacts on food security, the economy, and the environment. But while the topic of food waste is gaining traction with the public, government plans could further benefit from target-setting and evaluation, the report found. On the other hand, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
The report analyzed 93 official plans addressing food waste developed by local, state, and national governments. Researchers assessed how the government plans approached the topic of food waste, and how these plans are working.
Top Food Waste Reduction Plans Are Not Necessarily the Best
The researchers found that the topic of wasted food is addressed in many types of governmental plans, but is most commonly included in solid waste management plans and least commonly in climate plans.
While 67% of the plans reviewed emphasize composting programs, far fewer focus attention on strategies higher in the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy, especially waste prevention. Although composting is an important intervention for reducing landfilling and incineration of food waste, prevention activities can have significant environmental, economic, and social benefits, the report points out.
Another area in which many plans could be strengthened is target-setting, monitoring, and evaluation. Only 22 of the plans set numeric targets for minimizing the amount of food that is wasted by a specific year. Forty-eight additional plans set broader waste management and climate goals of varying levels of specificity and ambitiousness.
Barriers to Success?
The report noted that the top challenges faced by governments attempting to address food waste include lack of funding, negative perception of composting programs, data collection issues, and difficulties coordinating waste management across jurisdictional borders.
Strategies recommended by those who were interviewed for the report include clearly linking wasted food targets with other existing goals to help move it up the priority list, setting evidence-based targets, and gaining public support with pilot projects.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing wasted food – what works in Macon County, Illinois, may not work as well in Malaysia. But the people developing and implementing these plans face many of the same challenges and have a lot to learn from one another,” said Roni Neff, PhD, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering who oversaw the study and directs CLF’s Food System Sustainability & Public Health Program.