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This brief on food waste is one out of a series of Bioeconomy Knowledge Centre briefs which intend to provide independent evidence for EU policy in this field. The following are the key results: 1. According to a recent analysis, 129 Mt of food waste were generated in the EU in 2011. This represents 20% of the food produced. Vegetables, fruit and cereals are the food groups that produce the largest amount of food waste. 2. Most food waste is generated during the consumption stage (46%), almost as much as the amounts generated during the primary production (25%) and processing and manufacturing stages (24%) combined. Distribution and retail account for a very small fraction of the food waste generated in the food supply chain. 3. The food waste generated at the processing stage has a high valorisation1 potential, as the food waste streams are present in large, concentrated and homogeneous quantities. Food waste can be transformed into a range of added-value products through several valorisation pathways. The technological and economic feasibility and the environmental impacts of these products need to be comprehensively assessed in order to select the processes and products that enable optimal valorisation of food waste while ensuring sustainability and safety throughout the value chain. 4. Actions to tackle food waste require an evaluation framework which includes SMART objectives and Key Performance Indicators to track the achievement of each action’s goals and avoid significant trade-offs. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/brief-food-waste-european-union
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1
Brief on food waste in the European Union12
1 Waste valorisation refers to any processing activity aimed at reusing, recycling, or composting waste to yield useful
products with an added value (including chemicals, materials, and fuels).
2 SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound.
Key messages
1. According to a recent analysis, 129 Mt of food waste were generated in the EU in 2011.
This represents 20% of the food produced. Vegetables, fruit and cereals are the food
groups that produce the largest amount of food waste (see section 2).
2. Most food waste is generated during the consumption stage (46%), almost as much as
the amounts generated during the primary production (25%) and processing and
manufacturing stages (24%) combined. Distribution and retail account for a very small
fraction of the food waste generated in the food supply chain (see section 3).
3. The food waste generated at the processing stage has a high valorisation1 potential, as
the food waste streams are present in large, concentrated and homogeneous quantities.
Food waste can be transformed into a range of added-value products through several
valorisation pathways. The technological and economic feasibility and the environmental
impacts of these products need to be comprehensively assessed in order to select the
processes and products that enable optimal valorisation of food waste while ensuring
sustainability and safety throughout the value chain (see section 4).
4. Actions to tackle food waste require an evaluation framework which includes SMART2
objectives and Key Performance Indicators to track the achievement of each action’s
goals and avoid significant trade-offs (see section 5).
2
1. What is food waste?
The FUSIONS3 framework defines food waste as “food and inedible parts of food removed from the food
supply chain” that is to be disposed of (e.g. crops ploughed back into the soil, left unharvested or
incinerated, food disposed of in sewers or landfill sites, or fish discarded at sea) or used for nutrient
recovery or energy generation (e.g. through composting, or anaerobic digestion and other bioenergy
pathways) (FUSIONS, 20144).
Inedible parts of food are those parts that are not intended for human consumption, such as bones, rinds,
and pits/stones. However, there is no universal definition of the inedible fraction of food waste, which is
influenced by a range of variables, including cultural habits (e.g. chicken feet are more commonly consumed
in some countries than in others), socio-economic factors, food availability and price, technological
advances, international trade, and geography.
Hence, food waste includes parts of food intended to be eaten and parts of food not intended to be eaten
(EC, 2019). On the other hand, food waste does not include:
- pre-harvest losses, i.e. losses that occur before the raw material is ready for harvest or slaughter,
such as weather-related damage to crops (which is accounted for as agricultural waste);
- by-products5, i.e. edible or inedible material resulting from food production and processing, such as
peels, bones, and scrapings, that are then used for non-food purposes (e.g. cosmetics, glue, pet-
food);
- food packaging, such as boxes, wrapping, or plastic containers (although edible packaging would be
considered food because it is intended for human consumption).
The FUSIONS’ definition of food waste is in line with the official definition adopted by the European
Commission6 (EU, 2018), with the difference being that the latter does not include crops ploughed back into
the soil or left unharvested (e.g. crop produce left in the field due to its low economic profitability); see
Figure 1.
Figure 1. Boundaries of food waste (FW) as defined by FUSIONS (2014)4 and the EU (2018).
3 FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) was a project that aimed to
estimate food waste generation in the EU (https://www.eu-fusions.org/), implemented in 2007-2012 with financial
support from the EU’s Research and Innovation 7th Framework Programme.
4 This definition is consistent with the principles of the Food Loss and Waste Standard, a global standard that provides
requirements and guidance for quantifying and reporting on food waste (FLW Protocol, 2016). As in Caldeira et al.
(2019a), this is the definition used in this brief.
5 As defined in Directive 2008/98/EC, Article 5(1), i.e. meet the following criteria: further use of the substance or object is
certain; the substance or object can be used directly without any further processing other than normal industrial practice;
the substance or object is produced as an integral part of a production process; and further use is lawful.
6 Food waste means all food as defined in Article 2 of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 (European Parliament and Council,
2002) that has become waste.
3
As other definitions of food waste are found in the scientific literature, food waste quantification assessments
vary with regard to the types of materials covered (e.g. some studies cover only the edible parts of food).
Such differences, together with divergences in the system boundaries and the methods used for data
collection, hinder a robust quantification of food waste which could be used to develop policies that tackle
the issue.
Table 1 presents specific examples of different types of food waste grouped by stage of the food supply
chain and large food groups.
Table 1. Possible food waste by stage in the food supply chain. Source: adapted from Corrado et al. (2017).
Stage in food supply
chain
Crops Animals and animal products
Primary production (incl.
first transport and
storage)
Non-harvested edible products Discarded fish
Edible products left in the field Food lost due to poor storage
Edible products harvested but not sold
Rotten fruit or vegetables
Products damaged by machinery
Spilled products
Products damaged due to poor handling
Products stored in poor conditions
Processing Issues in processing (e.g. inefficiencies, contamination, etc.)
Inedible food waste (e.g. skins, seeds, bones, fruit pomace, etc.)
Food damaged by inappropriate packaging
Distribution
Food damaged due to lack of cooling/storage facilities
Expired food
Unsold food
Food rejected after quality controls
Consumption
Food damaged due to lack of cooling/storage facilities
Food not eaten e.g. due to excess, elapsed expiration date, inappropriate packaging, low
consumer appeal, and plate waste (i.e. food served but not eaten).
Inedible food waste (fruit kernels, bones, etc.)
PEAS PEAS
4
2. How much food waste is generated by different food groups in the EU?
According to a Mass Flow Analysis by Caldeira et al. (2019a), around 638 Mt of food commodities were
available for human consumption in the EU7 in 20118, generating approximately 129 Mt (fresh weight) of
food waste along the whole food supply chain9 (see Figure 2). Hence, food waste accounts for 20% of
food produced. This estimate is significantly higher than that of the FUSIONS project (88 Mt)10, which
was used as a reference for policymaking (e.g. in the Farm to Fork Strategy (EC, 2020)).
Vegetables (24%) and fruit (22%) are the food groups that produce the largest amounts of food waste,
followed by cereals (12%), meat (11%) and oil crops (10%). The fish and eggs food groups, which
make up the smallest parts of the food supply chain, also generate the lowest quantities of food waste in
absolute terms, despite the fact that much of these food groups (50% and 31% respectively) goes to
waste (see Figure 3).
Figure 2: Food waste generated in the EU-28 by food group (2011 data). Mt in fresh weight. Source:
Caldeira et al. (2019a).
On the other hand, the food groups that make the largest contributions to the food supply chain (food
available) do not produce the largest amounts of food waste. The ratio of food waste to food supplied
varies between groups, mainly due to the varying amounts of inedible content and the extent to which
each group can be stored before consumption, e.g. cereals (pasta, rice) vs fruit and vegetables (see
Figure 3).
7 European Union comprising the following 28 countries that were Member States of the EU in the reference year (2011):
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary,
Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia,
Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
8 This quantification of food waste builds on the modelling exercise of the Mass Flow Analysis conducted by Kemna et al.
(2017) (namely on by-products coefficients), which had 2011 as the reference year. The JRC is currently updating these
coefficients and the entire assessment of food waste. This methodology uses a combination of methods (mass balance,
coefficients and production statistics) presented in Annex III of Commission Delegated Decision (EU) 2019/1597 (EC,
2019) for the primary production, processing and manufacturing, and retail and distribution stages. Annex III reports
methods to be used for the in-depth measurement of food waste.
9 Annual food waste estimates for the EU range between 119 and 145 Mt due to uncertainties in the coefficients used to
estimate the food waste by food group and stage of the supply chain.
10 Caldeira et al. (2019a) use the FUSIONS’ definition and boundaries. However, differences between the two
quantifications are observed, mainly at the primary production and manufacturing stages, due to the different approaches
followed. Caldeira et al. (2019a) follow a mass balance approach that combines different sources of information with the
breakdown into the major EU food groups. FUSIONS uses normalisation factors (based on, e.g., food produced, population
and turnover) from a limited number of countries, and upscale the data to the EU level.
5
Figure 3. Relationship between food available11 at the beginning of the food supply chain and food
waste along the entire food supply chain, by food group in the EU based on 2011 data. Each dot
represents 1 Mt of food; red dots represent the amount wasted. The ratio of Food waste/Food available
is given in brackets for each food group. Source: adapted from Caldeira et al. (2019a).
3. How much food waste is generated in each stage of the food supply
chain?
The largest amount of food waste is generated during the consumption stage (46%), followed by primary
production (25%), and processing and manufacturing (24%). The distribution and retail stages only account
for 5% of the food waste generated in the supply chain (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. Amount of food waste (in fresh weight) generated during the different stages of the food supply
chain (bars) and breakdown by main food groups (pie charts). Source: Caldeira et al. (2019a)10.
11 Food available includes food consumed, water content and by-products (e.g. for sugarbeet it includes water that is
evaporated in the sugar processing process and molasses used for animal feed).
0.0 20.0 40.0 60.0 80.0 100.0 120.0 140.0
Distribution
& Retail
Primary production
32.2 Mt
(25.0%)
6.6
5.1%
Consumption
59.7 Mt (46.3%)
Processing &
Manufacturing
30.5 Mt (23.6%)
Fruit
34%
Vegetables
42%
Others
14%
Sugarbeet
10%
Fruit
20%
Oil
crops
33%
Fish
10%
Others
37%
Cereals
26%
Meat
26%
Vegetables
13%
Others
35%
Vegetables
24%
Cereals
17%
Fruit
17%
Others
42%
6
While fruit and vegetables only represent 21% of available food, they account for as much as 76% and 41%
of the food waste generated during primary production12 and consumption, respectively. The significant
shares that these food groups have in the food waste generated at the consumption stage is related to their
high inedible fraction at the point of purchase and their high perishability compared to other food groups.
Oil crops represent 33% of the total food waste generated by food processing and manufacturing, mainly
due to the processing of olive oil (e.g. waste pomace) 13 . Fruit (20%) and fish (10%) also contribute
significant quantities at this stage, since the processing of fruit and fish generates a significant amount of
food waste that is not usually valorised. On the other hand, a large share of the inedible parts produced
during the processing of different food groups is valorised in other industries, and it is therefore not counted
as food waste. For example, bones, blood, inedible organs, and skin from the processing of meat are used
as fertiliser, feedstuffs, binders, clothing, pharmaceuticals, etc., while milling residues from cereals
processing, brewer’s spent grain from beer production, oilcake from vegetable oil production and residues
from the potato processing industry are often used as animal feed.
4. What options are available for the valorisation of food waste into high
added-value products?
When food (or its parts) cannot be consumed by humans, other options, including reuse, recycling and
recovery, should be considered in order to avoid waste disposal. Recycling includes options that yield low
added-value products, such as bioenergy carriers (e.g. biogas and biomethane, bioethanol, biohydrogen,
bio-oil, biochar), compost, etc., and options that can give rise to high economic added-value products.
Focussing on the latter, recent research and development has led to the extraction and recovery of value-
added components for industrial applications (e.g. cosmetics and nutraceuticals, food preservation and
packaging products, pharmaceuticals, etc.), as well as to the conversion of food waste into bio-based
building blocks that can be used in a wide range of applications as bio-materials (e.g. bioceramics,
biopolymers, etc.).
These efforts focus on food waste in the processing stage, which offers great homogeneity of waste streams
(facilitating conversion technologies) and large and concentrated quantities of waste (reducing logistic and
capital costs). This stage therefore provides a stable supply for the valorisation processes and prevents
waste further downstream in the food chain. Many of the valorisation pathways that are being developed
target waste from fruit processing (44% of the total number of different valorisation pathways), followed by
cereals (11%) and fish-based food (11%). Large shares are also geared towards obtaining polyphenols
(25%), polysaccharides (14%), enzymes (10%) and fatty acids (10%)14.
Fruit processing waste is treated mainly to obtain substances used for food additives, pharmaceutical
products and cosmetics, such as phenolic compounds, essential oils and other fatty acids, as well as
lycopene and other bioactive compounds (see Figure 5). They can also be used to produce intermediate
products, such as enzymes, which can be used for a wide range of applications. Waste from the processing
of oilseed, sugar, starchy crops and vegetables can be turned into polyphenols (namely phenolic compounds
and flavonoids). Other extensively researched valorisation pathways are the recuperation of protein
hydrolysates and other bioactive peptides from the waste generated by meat and fish processing, and the
production of organic acids from the processing of cereals, both for nutraceuticals and food additives.
12 Fish discards from fishing (i.e. production stage) are not counted as food waste in the fish group due to lack of data.
The reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and initiatives such as the Community-led local development (CLLD) scheme
support the reduction of wasteful practices in European fisheries.
13 As there are no official statistics from European olive mills on the amount of olive pomace being used for energy
generation (bioelectricity, co-generation, process heat or heating) or compost, the amount of waste may be
overestimated. A large quantity (circa 14.7 Mt) of oil cake from oilseed processing, used as animal feed, is excluded.
14 The variety, number and shares of valorisation pathways are based on the literature review conducted by Caldeira et al.
(2020).
7
Figure 5. Potential pathways to valorise food waste into added-value bio-based products and the sector of
application. The thickness of the connecting lines represents the number of different pathways tested, as
documented in the scientific literature. Source: adapted from Caldeira et al. (2020).
The processes and technologies used in these valorisation pathways are very diverse and combine different
techniques, from biochemical (e.g. enzymatic, chemical and acid hydrolysis, fermentation, extraction, etc.)
to thermo-physical (e.g. supercritical fluid extraction with CO2, ultrafiltration, ultrasound extraction, etc.)
methods. However, most are currently at the laboratory scale and their feasibility at the industrial scale is
yet to be proven. Their technological and economic potential depends on several factors, such as the
availability and logistics of food waste streams, pre-treatment processes performed and the ability to scale
the process up to an industrial scale.
In addition to the lack of information on the viability and performance at the industrial scale, other
limitations and barriers identified for the valorisation of food waste in biorefineries include, inter alia, the
availability of the feedstock and the logistics for its supply; costs of the process and market prices of the
bio-based products obtained; and the need for standardisation of certain processes (e.g. extraction of
bioactive proteins from fish waste) (Caldeira et al., 2020).
Innovative food waste valorisation options and their environmental, economic and social impacts should be
assessed carefully over the entire life cycle of expected products using appropriate holistic and integrated
methods (such as life cycle assessment) in order to demonstrate that they are no less sustainable or safe
than conventional options (e.g. anaerobic digestion).
Agriculture Food
industry Biomaterials
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8
5. How should actions to tackle food waste be designed and implemented?
Tackling food waste is key to achieving sustainability. The Commission is committed to halving per capita
food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 12, Target 12.3), and
recently adopted EU strategies integrate food waste considerations15. The Commission plans to propose
legally binding targets to reduce food waste across the EU using data expected from Member States as of
2022, as well as to integrate food loss and waste prevention into other EU policies (EC, 2020).
The waste hierarchy16 - developed in the 1970s to prioritise waste management strategies - has evolved and
been adapted to food waste (see Figure 6). This pyramid ranks the preferred strategies, focusing first on
prevention actions, followed by reuse pathways of surplus food17 fit for human consumption, reuse of food
no longer intended for human consumption as animal feedstuff, recycling of material into high added-value
products (without complete degradation), recycling of nutrients, recovery of energy and, as the least
preferable option, the disposal of food waste.
Figure 6. Hierarchy for prioritisation of food surplus, by-products and food waste (FW) prevention
strategies18. Adapted from Teigiserova et al. (2020), Papargyropoulou et al. (2014) and UNEP (2014).
Preventing food waste will potentially result in the reduction of resources for the strategies downstream in
the pyramid, thereby impacting their economic feasibility (e.g. there will be less demand for human
resources to redistribute surplus food, or for investment in recycling and valorisation technologies).
The food waste hierarchy should guide the development of strategies that tackle food waste. Such strategies
are underpinned by actions whose performance should be evaluated in terms of quality, effectiveness,
efficiency, sustainability over time, transferability and scalability, and intersectoral cooperation (Caldeira et
al., 2019b).
Key aspects in assessing the performance of food waste reduction actions are the identification of the
problem, definition of the target and goals through SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant,
Time-Bound) objectives, and close monitoring and follow-up activities. To monitor, follow up and prioritise
the prevention actions, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) need to be established and measured to track the
achievement of each action´s goals and help avoid significant trade-offs, e.g. between the environmental
15 Bioeconomy Strategy (EC, 2018b), new Circular Economy Action Plan (EC, 2020b), Farm to Fork Strategy (EC, 2020).
The Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (EC, 2020c) also links food systems and food security with biodiversity.
16 The waste hierarchy is a principal waste management framework by which to identify the actions most likely to deliver
the best overall environmental outcome.
17 Finished food products (including fresh meat, fruit and vegetables), partly formulated products or food ingredients that
may arise at any stage of the food production and distribution chain for a variety of reasons.
18 Some food waste treatment processes can be associated with more than one category. For example, anaerobic
digestion produces fertiliser (digestate) and energy (biogas), and can be considered as both ‘Recovery of nutrients’ and
‘Recovery of energy’.
Waste incinerated without energy recovery
Waste sent to landfill
Waste ingredient/product for sewage disposal
Recovery of substances contained in FW for low added-value uses
such as composting, digestate from anaerobic digestion, etc.
Re-use surplus food for human consumption
through redistribution networks and food banks
while respecting safety and hygiene norms
Most preferable
option
Least
preferable option
Avoid surplus food generation throughout food
production & consumption
Prevent FW generation throughout the food supply
chain
Feed use of certain food no longer intended for human
consumption following EC guidelines (EC, 2018)
Revalorise i) by-products from food processing and ii) food
waste into added-value products by processes that keep the
high value of the molecule bonds of the material
Incineration of FW with energy recovery
Prevention
Re-use
human consumption
Re-use
animal feed
Disposal
Recycle
nutrients
recovery
Recovery
energy
Reuse
by-products
Recycle
food waste
9
benefits of an action and the cost of its implementation. KPIs are then analysed to identify opportunities for
improvement and to design a follow-up plan to ensure long-term sustainability. This evaluation framework
follows a three-step process (i.e. action planning, action implementation, and post-action monitoring) to
design, implement and assess actions and strategies to tackle food waste (Figure 7).
However, since actions that address food waste may be highly diverse in nature and goals (e.g. awareness
campaigns vs food waste valorisation strategies), the indicators in the evaluation framework should be
tailored to the type of action. Accordingly, only actions whose performance is assessed by the same set of
KPIs can be compared. Furthermore, the provision of appropriate data to compute the SMART objectives and
KPIs of the evaluation framework should be ensured to develop and assess actions and strategies to tackle
food waste (Caldeira et al., 2019b).
Figure 7. Process and steps for the development of food waste (FW) prevention actions. Adapted from
Caldeira et al. (2019b).
In the design phase, actions for tackling food waste must consider barriers already identified, such as
administrative burdens and extra effort for action monitoring, and the limitations to the use of certain food
waste due to food safety legislation.
The JRC has developed a food waste prevention calculator19 to help practitioners (e.g. local, regional or
national administrations and other actors within the food supply chain) in the identification of potential
trade-offs during the design phase of a food waste prevention action, and to provide data for several KPIs.
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a pivotal method for addressing multiple environmental impacts and trade-
offs. Hence, the calculator is based on LCA in order to perform cost-benefit analyses and environmental
savings’ assessments20 of different food waste prevention actions (De Laurentiis et al., 2020).
19 The food waste prevention calculator is available at the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste
(https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/eu_actions/eu-platform_en), under “Key recommendations for actions of
the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste”.
20 The environmental impacts and benefits deriving from the implementation of a food waste prevention action are
calculated using the Life Cycle Assessment method, which allows for the evaluation of 16 different categories of impact
covering the entire food supply chain, from the agricultural stage up to waste treatment. The economic benefits and
environmental savings are assessed considering both the burden and benefits of the actions, namely: i) the cost or
environmental impacts of the avoided food production, ii) the cost or environmental impacts of avoided food waste
management, and iii) the cost or environmental impacts of the implementation of the action.
• Baseline: X t/year of surplus
food are wasted
• Target: X% of food waste
reduction by 2030 compared
with 2015
Target
• Amount of food
redistributed/reused
• Number of food insecure
individuals reached
Per capita FW generated in
one year
FW generated per number of
meals served
FW generated per kg produced
FW generated per kg sold
Effectiveness
KPIs
• Food waste: amount of FW
prevented/Cost of action
(kg/€)
• Economic: Net economic
benefits/Cost of action (€/€)
• Environmental:
Net GHG savings/Cost of
action (CO
2
eq/€)
Net water use savings/Cost
of action (m
3
eq/€)
Efficiency
KPIs
Key success factor: easy
implementation
Main barriers: scalability
Action over time: increase
human resources
Follow-up
action
η
1. Action planning
1.1 Problem identification
1.2 Objectives & KPIs definition
1.3 Action Plan definition
1.4 Monitoring system
implementation
2. Action implementation
2.1 Monitoring KPIs & distance to target
2.2 Identification of improvements
2.3 Analysis of external factors affecting performance
3. Post-action monitoring
3.1 Effectiveness & efficiency
assessment
3.2 Identification of key success
factors and barriers
3.3 Follow-up plan
10
Knowledge gaps
1. Existing data on food waste and reporting schemes are characterised by significant
uncertainty due to, e.g., limited representativeness of the sample used for the
collection of primary data.
2. Food flows vary significantly between different countries, e.g. due to different eating
habits and waste collection systems. Robust and representative data on food waste
are not available for all EU Member States.
3. The quantities of food waste presented in this brief are subject to methodological
limitations. For example, due to a lack of official statistics, the amount of fresh
products entering the distribution stage was estimated by means of mass balances.
The coefficients used to determine food waste during the primary production stage
were based on a study that covered Nordic countries. Furthermore, the amount of
food waste in the processing and manufacturing stage depends on specific processing
technologies and on the efficiency of production processes, which have not been
taken into account in this quantification exercise.
4. Comprehensive and comparable analyses of the techno-economic feasibility and of
the environmental impacts of potential valorisation pathways of food waste are
needed. The types and amounts of food waste available at different geographical
locations of producers, intermediaries and potential end-users of the high added-
value products should also be assessed in detail.
11
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This brief has been prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) for the European Commission's Knowledge
Centre for Bioeconomy, which brings together knowledge and scientific evidence from within and outside of
the European Commission in a transparent, tailored and concise manner, to inform policymaking on the
bioeconomy. The scientific output expressed does not imply a policy position of the European Commission.
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the
use that might be made of this publication.
European Commission's Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy
https://ec.europa.eu/knowledge4policy/bioeconomy
Contact: EC-Bioeconomy-KC@ec.europa.eu
JRC121196
Printed in Italy
© European Union, 2020
Reproduction is authorised provided that the source is acknowledged, save where otherwise stated.
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In 2015, the United Nations defined the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which include a target (12.3) on food waste. The target requires “by 2030, to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and to reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”. The target has increased awareness about the food waste problem and boosted research in food waste quantification. Nevertheless, there is a lack of studies that adopt a systematic approach to account for food waste providing disaggregated values per food supply chain stage and per food groups. Such an approach could support policy makers in prioritizing interventions for food waste reduction. To fill this gap, this paper presents a high-level top-down approach to food waste accounting in the European Union. The study aims to support the understanding of the mass flows associated with food production, consumption, and waste, addressing different food groups along the food supply chain. The method for accountin is the mass flow analysis. According to the results, cereals, fruit, and vegetables as the food groups are responsible for the highest amount of food waste, and the consumption stage to be responsible for the largest share of food waste for most food groups. This work highlights the need for further primary research on food waste generation in the EU. Ultimately, this would allow to robustly estimate the food waste generated at EU level, and establishing a more accurate baseline to track the progress towards SDG target 12.3.
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Food loss is a major concern from both environmental and social point of view. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been largely applied to quantify the environmental impact of food and to identify pros and cons of different options for optimisation of food systems management, including the recovery of potential waste occurring along the supply chain. However, within LCA case studies, there is still a general lack of proper accounting of food losses. A discrepancy both in food loss definition and in the approaches adopted to model the environmental burden of food loss has been observed. These aspects can lead to misleading and, sometimes, contrasting results, limiting the reliability of LCA as a decision support tool for assessing food production systems. This article aims, firstly, at providing a preliminary analysis on how the modelling of food loss has been conducted so far in LCA studies. Secondly, it suggests a definition for food loss to be adopted. Finally, the article investigates the consequence of using such definition and it proposes potential paths for the development of a common methodological framework to increase the robustness and comparability of the LCA studies. It discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches adopted to account for food loss along the food supply chain: primary production, transport and storage, food processing, distribution, consumption and end of life. It is also proposed to account separately between avoidable, possibly avoidable and unavoidable food loss by means of specific indicators. Finally, some recommendations for LCA practitioners are provided on how to deal with food loss in LCA studies focused on food products. The most relevant recommendations concern: i) the systematic accounting of food loss generated along the food supply chain; ii) the modelling of waste treatments according to the specific characteristics of food; iii) the sensitivity analysis on the modelling approaches adopted to model multi-functionality; and iv) the need of transparency in describing the modelling of food loss generation and management.
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In this study, the key gaps of food waste prevention been addressed in the context of the emerging circular economy. First, current terminology related to food waste was reviewed and clarified, in particular, the terms food surplus, waste and losses. This work highlights why the clarity of these definitions is crucial for the sustainability of future food waste management systems, especially in the context of circular economy. Through a simple matrix, definitions are linked to the concepts of edibility and possibility of avoidance, leading to six distinct categories of food waste: i) edible, ii) naturally inedible (pits), iii) industrial residue, iv) inedible due to natural causes (pests), v) inedible due to ineffective management and vi) not accounted for. Category I encompasses surplus food only; category II-V food waste and category VI food losses. Based on this, an updated pyramid for food waste hierarchy is proposed, distinguishing surplus food and a new category for material recycling, in order to reflect the future food waste biorefineries in the circular bioeconomy. Nutrient and energy recovery are two separate categories and the terms recovery and recycling are clarified. Finally, a circular economy framework is presented for food surplus and waste, considering closing the loop throughout the whole food supply chain, in connection with the concept of strong and weak sustainability. This is presented along with a review of key EU policies related to food waste and examples of initiatives from the Member States.
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The unprecedented scale of food waste in global food supply chains is attracting increasing attention due to its environmental, social and economic impacts. From a climate change perspective, the food sector is thought to be the cause of 22 per cent of the global warming potential in the EU. Drawing on interviews with food waste specialists, this study construes the boundaries between food surplus and food waste, avoidable and unavoidable food waste, and between waste prevention and waste management. This study suggests that the first step towards a more sustainable resolution of the growing food waste issue is to adopt a sustainable production and consumption approach and tackle food surplus and waste throughout the global food supply chain. The authors examine the factors that give rise to food waste throughout the global food supply chain, and propose a framework to identify and prioritize the most appropriate options for the prevention and management of food waste. The proposed framework interprets and applies the waste hierarchy in the context of food waste. It considers the three dimensions of sustainability (environmental, economic, and social), offering a more holistic approach in addressing the food waste issue. Additionally, it considers the materiality and temporality of food. The food waste hierarchy posits that prevention, through minimization of food surplus and avoidable food waste, is the most attractive option. The second most attractive option involves the distribution of food surplus to groups affected by food poverty, followed by the option of converting food waste to animal feed. Although the proposed food waste hierarchy requires a fundamental re-think of the current practices and systems in place, it has the potential to deliver substantial environmental, social and economic benefits.
Sustainability of food waste biorefinery: A review on valorisation pathways, techno-economic constraints
  • C Caldeira
  • A Vlysidis
  • G Fiore
  • V De Laurentiis
  • G Vignali
  • S Sala
Caldeira, C., Vlysidis, A., Fiore, G., De Laurentiis, V., Vignali, G., Sala, S. 2020. 'Sustainability of food waste biorefinery: A review on valorisation pathways, techno-economic constraints, and environmental assessment'. Bioresource Technology. 312: 123575. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biortech.2020.123575. Champions 12.3. 2019. SDG target 12.3 on food loss and waste: 2019 progress report. Available at: https://champions123.org/2019-progress-report/. Accessed: 07 April 2020.
Definitional Framework for Food Waste -Full Report
FUSIONS, 2014. Definitional Framework for Food Waste -Full Report. FUSIONS Report. Available at: https://www.eu-fusions.org/index.php/publications. Accessed: 23 April 2020.
Optimal Food Storage Conditions in Refrigeration Appliances. Preparatory/review Study on Commission Regulation (EC) No. 643/2009 and Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No. 1060/2010 -Complementary Research on Optimal Food Storage Conditions in Refriger
  • R Kemna
  • F Van Holsteijn
  • P Lee
  • E Sims
Kemna, R., van Holsteijn, F., Lee, P., Sims, E., 2017. Optimal Food Storage Conditions in Refrigeration Appliances. Preparatory/review Study on Commission Regulation (EC) No. 643/2009 and Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No. 1060/2010 -Complementary Research on Optimal Food Storage Conditions in Refriger. Available at: https://www.vhk.nl/downloads/Reports/2017/VHK%20563%20FINAL%20REPORT%20Optimal%20food%20 storage%20conditions%20in%20refrigeration%20appliances%20VHK%2020170217.pdf. Accessed: 11 May 2020.
Prevention and reduction of food and drink waste in businesses and households -Guidance for governments, local authorities, businesses and other organisations
UNEP (2014) Prevention and reduction of food and drink waste in businesses and households -Guidance for governments, local authorities, businesses and other organisations, Version 1.0. ISBN: 978-92-807-3346-4. Available at: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/save-food/PDF/Guidance-content.pdf. Accessed: 23 April 2020.