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To feed future populations on ever-scarcer natural resources, policy initiatives aim to decrease resource footprints of food consumption. While adopting healthier diets has shown great potential to reduce footprints, current political initiatives primarily address strategies to reduce food waste, with the target of halving food waste at retail and consumption levels by 2030. Using Germany as a case study, we compare the resource-saving potential of this political target with three scenarios of nutritionally viable, plant-based dietary patterns and investigate interactions and trade-offs. By using the Food and Agriculture Biomass Input-Output model, we capture biomass, cropland, and blue water footprints of global supply chains. The results show that dietary changes are particularly effective in reducing biomass and cropland footprints, showing a decrease of up to 61% and 48%, respectively, whereas halving food waste decreases biomass and cropland footprints by 11% and 15%, respectively. For blue water savings, halving food waste is more effective: water use decreases by 14% compared to an increase of 6% for dietary change with the highest water consumption. Subsequently, a combination of the scenarios shows the highest total reduction potential. However, our findings reveal that despite reduced footprints, a dietary shift can lead to an increased amount of food waste due to the rising consumption of products associated with higher food waste shares. Therefore, policy strategies addressing both targets might be contradicting. We conclude that international and national policies can be most effective in achieving higher resource efficiency by exploiting the reduction potentials of all available strategies while simultaneously considering strategy interactions.
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Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/abe673
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LETTER
Eating healthy or wasting less? Reducing resource footprints
of food consumption
Hanna Helander1,, Martin Bruckner2, Sina Leipold1, Anna Petit-Boix1and Stefan Bringezu3
1Chair of Societal Transition and Circular Economy, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
2Institute for Ecological Economics, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria
3Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany
Author to whom any correspondence should be addressed.
E-mail: hanna.helander@transition.uni-freiburg.de
Keywords: resource footprints, food waste, diets, policy
Supplementary material for this article is available online
Abstract
To feed future populations on ever-scarcer natural resources, policy initiatives aim to decrease
resource footprints of food consumption. While adopting healthier diets has shown great potential
to reduce footprints, current political initiatives primarily address strategies to reduce food waste,
with the target of halving food waste at retail and consumption levels by 2030. Using Germany as a
case study, we compare the resource-saving potential of this political target with three scenarios of
nutritionally viable, plant-based dietary patterns and investigate interactions and trade-offs. By
using the Food and Agriculture Biomass Input–Output model, we capture biomass, cropland, and
blue water footprints of global supply chains. The results show that dietary changes are particularly
effective in reducing biomass and cropland footprints, showing a decrease of up to 61% and 48%,
respectively, whereas halving food waste decreases biomass and cropland footprints by 11% and
15%, respectively. For blue water savings, halving food waste is more effective: water use decreases
by 14% compared to an increase of 6% for dietary change with the highest water consumption.
Subsequently, a combination of the scenarios shows the highest total reduction potential. However,
our findings reveal that despite reduced footprints, a dietary shift can lead to an increased amount
of food waste due to the rising consumption of products associated with higher food waste shares.
Therefore, policy strategies addressing both targets might be contradicting. We conclude that
international and national policies can be most effective in achieving higher resource efficiency by
exploiting the reduction potentials of all available strategies while simultaneously considering
strategy interactions.
1. Introduction
To feed future populations on a planet with dwind-
ling resources and increasingly degraded ecosystems,
societies need to decrease the pressures of food sys-
tems on land and resources worldwide (Gerten et al
2020). Given global supply chains and demand-
driven resource use, it is necessary to address con-
sumption footprints (e.g. carbon, land, or water
footprints), particularly in industrialized countries
(Steen-Olsen et al 2012, Tukker et al 2014, Interna-
tional Resource Panel 2019). How to reduce these
footprints is at the core of many current political
and scientific debates related to the food sector.
International policies aimed at decreasing resource
pressures predominantly focus on food waste reduc-
tion. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 on
‘sustainable production and consumption’ calls for
halving food waste in consumption and distribution
by 2030 (UN 2015), a target that has been adop-
ted, for instance, by the EU Action Plan for the
Circular Economy (EC 2015). In this context, food
loss and waste (FLW) comprise commodities that
were intended for human consumption, including
their non-edible parts, and removed from the food
supply chain or thrown away in households (EU
2008,2018, WRI 2016, Champions 12.3 2017, BMEL
2019). Given these supranational strategies, several
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
countries have developed national strategies or initi-
atives to operationalize food waste reduction targets
(Australian Government 2017, Swedish Food Agency
2018, BMEL 2019, BMLRT 2019). Next toFLW reduc-
tion, research on sustainable food systems increas-
ingly points to the role of more plant-based and
healthier diets to decrease resource footprints (Foley
et al 2011, Tilman and Clark 2014, Springmann et al
2018, Vanham et al 2018, Willett et al 2019). Previ-
ous studies show similar or greater potential of diet-
ary shifts to decrease environmental footprints than
food waste reduction, depending on assumptions
of FLW reduction potential, regional consumption
habits, and dietary scenarios. The potential of diet-
ary shifts is particularly large in high-income coun-
tries (Aleksandrowicz et al 2016, Behrens et al 2017,
Shepon et al 2018).
Because of the lack of political initiatives tar-
geting dietary changes in comparison to the strong
focus on FLW reduction, assessing the potential envir-
onmental benefits of these two strategies is crucial
to support national policymakers in their prioritiz-
ation efforts and target setting. There is a general
scientific consensus that, for Western countries, an
increase in plant-based diets is in most cases both
healthier and more environmentally friendly (Tilman
and Clark 2014, Hallström et al 2015, Bryngelsson
et al 2016, Gephart et al 2016, Lacour et al 2018,
Springmann et al 2018, Clark et al 2019). It has also
been shown that for the US the resource losses in the
conversion from plant-based feed to animal-based
food products exceed those of FLW (Shepon et al
2018). So far, the interaction between dietary changes
and food waste strategies has received little atten-
tion. One study assesses food waste, the diet qual-
ity of various dishes, and environmental pressures for
the US, indicating that healthy dishes are associated
with greater amounts of food waste (Conrad et al
2018). Yet, economy-wide analyses of the relation-
ship between resource footprints, food waste reduc-
tion scenarios, and various dietary scenarios at a
national level are few, and to our knowledge have only
addressed the US so far (Birney et al 2017). To ensure
that policy targets accurately aim at the overarch-
ing goal of reducing resource footprints, the saving
potentials of different policies and their interactions
with other measures must be taken into account. For
a policy target of reducing food waste, dietary changes
may influence both the possibility of reaching the tar-
get and its environmental benefit (Conrad et al 2018,
Shepon et al 2018). We aim to address these interac-
tions between strategies related to food waste reduc-
tion and to dietary changes. To support policy tar-
get setting and prioritization, we compare the envir-
onmental benefits of dietary changes with those of
food waste reduction. Specifically, we assess the cro-
pland, biomass and blue water footprints of differ-
ent food waste and dietary scenarios and discuss the
implications for policy target setting, their potential
risks and opportunities, and the accuracy of related
indicators to reflect resource footprints.
This article focuses on Germany as a case study.
The country constitutes a particularly relevant case
with high potential to contribute to reducing global
resource footprints, as it has Europe’s highest car-
bon footprint related to food consumption (Kim et al
2020). Germany is also perceived as a frontrunner in
waste management and one of the few EU countries
that particularly promotes food waste reduction as a
means of achieving a more resource-efficient circu-
lar economy. It adopted a national strategy in 2019
to decrease food waste (BMEL 2019). A comparat-
ive analysis of German food waste and dietary change
scenarios can provide insights for other industrialized
countries on ways to implement effective resource-
efficiency policies.
2. Methods
We modeled the global supply chain of German food
consumption and its associated resource footprints,
accounting for cropland use, total harvested biomass,
and blue-water use. Cropland and blue water, given
their uses in different economic activities, are con-
sidered scarce, and at the same time are vital for food
production (Hoekstra and Wiedmann 2014, Steffen
et al 2015). Total harvested biomass captures the
material footprint and thus helps to compare resource
intensity among product groups. To assess the poten-
tial of dietary changes towards a healthier general
nutrition, we develop three nutritionally viable scen-
arios of average dietary patterns, referred to simply
as ‘diets’: (a) a guideline diet based on German diet-
ary guidelines (Oberritter et al 2013, DGE 2019), (b)
asustainable diet meeting several environmental and
health requirements (Willett et al 2019), and (c) a
low-dairy vegetarian diet adapted from the sustain-
able diet. Our food waste reduction scenario reflects
the current political targets of halving food waste in
consumption and distribution. We assess this scen-
ario both separately and in combination with the diet-
ary scenarios. We present the resource footprints for
each scenario and provide a deeper understanding of
the system dynamics by showing product character-
istics in terms of footprints and food waste shares.
Figure 1shows the modeled supply chain of Ger-
man food consumption, the system boundaries, and
the consumption-oriented scenarios that feed into the
model.
2.1. Modeling national consumption footprints
We map the food supply chain and its resource
footprints using the Food and Agriculture Bio-
mass Input–Output Model (FABIO; Bruckner et al
2019). FABIO is an environmentally extended multi-
regional input–output (EE-MRIO) model covering
physical flows and associated inputs of harvested bio-
mass, land, and water for 130 food and agricultural
2
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
Production Storage &
Transport Processing Distribution Consumption Eaten
System boundaries: Status Quo, Germany
Guideline diet
Sustainable diet
Vegetarian diet
Food loss (FL) Food waste (FW)
Consumption-based
target scenarios
feeding into the
model Halving FW
Changing dietary patterns
FW reduction
Flow of food products adapted
for dietary scenario
Flow of food products
Flow of food products adapted
for FW scenario
Flow not included in model
Figure 1. System definition and boundaries. The supply chains are global and defined based on the food consumed and eaten in
Germany. The system processes are defined according to FAO (2011).
products in 191 countries (Bruckner et al 2019).
Using the latest available data for FABIO, we map the
supply chains and biomass flows associated with Ger-
man food consumption for the reference year 2013.
We account for FLW along the supply chain from
post-harvesting to final human consumption.
Footprints are commonly used indicators of
human pressure on the environment (Galli et al 2013,
Hoekstra and Wiedmann 2014) and generally refer
to a supply-chain or consumption-based perspect-
ive (Giljum et al 2013, Tukker et al 2014). The bio-
mass footprint shows the primary plant biomass har-
vested or grazed, according to the conventions of
economy-wide material flow accounting (2001,2013,
OECD 2008). The land-use footprint refers to crop-
land, including both arable land and permanent crops
(FAOSTAT 2019). The blue water footprint measures
the consumption of freshwater (surface and ground-
water), including both direct and indirect water use
(Hoekstra and Mekonnen 2012). Following the EE-
MRIO methodology, the footprints were calculated as
f=b
eLy, where fis the total footprint of German food
consumption, b
eis a diagonalized vector giving the
environmental input of the addressed resource per
unit of output of each product, Lgives the Leontief
inverse matrix, and ythe final demand vector for Ger-
many. Final demand, in the case of FABIO, comprises
food use for 130 commodities and 191 source regions
including those amounts of food that are wasted at the
distribution and consumption stages. We implement
the scenarios in the form of adapted final-demand
vectors, applying the assumed changes to food con-
sumption and waste (section 2.3). Due to a lack of
data, the model does not cover environmental inputs
for fish. This increases the uncertainty of the results,
in particular for water footprints. We consider this
uncertainty acceptable as the scenarios contain relat-
ively low levels of fish. A discussion of the implica-
tions of this limitation is found in section 4.2.
2.2. Composition of dietary scenarios
The composition of the three dietary scenarios and
the current average German dietary pattern are shown
in figure 2. The current diet represents the average per
capita food consumption pattern in Germany based
on the demand vector available in FABIO (adjus-
ted for FLW) and its related supply chains for the
reference year 2013. The data is generally given in
fresh weights of primary food product equivalents
(e.g. oats, olive oil, milk) for 130 products. We use
dietary recommendations or principles, specifying
the amount of food consumed for different product
categories (e.g. vegetables, fruit, and meat) to develop
the final demand vectors for three reference diet-
ary patterns. As the dietary recommendations form-
ing the basis of our scenarios are given in quant-
ities of food from different product categories, we
translate these into primary food products (e.g. oats,
onions, bananas, pork). We split product categories
into primary food products according to the propor-
tions of the product categories in the current Ger-
man dietary pattern. The alternative dietary patterns
are standardized to meet the average energy demand
of 2796 kcal per day, i.e. 311 kcal less than the cur-
rent diet. The average energy demand was estimated
by V´
asquez et al (2018) and is based on the demo-
graphic composition of the German population in
the reference year 2013. To ensure that the scenarios
are ‘nutritionally viable’ in terms of providing the
population with an adequate supply of proteins and
fats, the dietary scenarios are controlled against Ger-
man official recommendations. As the study aims
to assess general nutrition patterns and their main
resource flows, we refrain from addressing individual
diets, including for instance aspects of micronutri-
ents, human uptake, fortified foods, supplements,
or particular preparation practices. Information on
the nutritional content of the analyzed diets and the
recommendations of the German Nutrition Society
3
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
Source / principle
(ref.)
FABIO (Bruckner et al.,
2019)
German nutrition
circle (DGE)
EAT Lancet (Willet et
al., 2019)
Based on EAT Lancet
(own adaptation)
Current diet
Guideline diet
Sustainable diet
Vegetarian diet
0200 1000
Composition of reference diets (g cap-1 d-1)
400 600 800 1200 1400 1600
Figure 2. Composition of assessed reference dietary patterns (g cap1d1). Weights are generally given in fresh weights; cereals,
pulses and beans are dry, raw.
(DGE) on nutrient intake can be found in the supple-
mentary information (SI), table S1 (available online
at stacks.iop.org/ERL/16/054033/mmedia).
The guideline diet is based on the nutrition circle
scheme recommended by the DGE, showing the pro-
portions of different food groups (Oberritter et al
2013, DGE 2019). Due to consumer convenience,
the proportions are given in terms of the weight
of prepared food. However, as the form of pre-
paration largely determines the weight, we assume
fresh weights as given in FABIO. The assumed mois-
ture contents are given in the supplementary data-
set (‘H. Moisture_content’). The sustainable diet is
based on the reference diet suggested by the EAT
Lancet Commission (Willett et al 2019). This diet
is developed taking into account health, biophys-
ical limits of the planet, and political targets for cli-
mate change limitation, which include indicators for
greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen and phosphorus
application, consumptive water use, extinction rate,
and cropland use. This reference diet provides more
detailed product categories than the guideline diet
and its composition is given in grams per day. Given
the substantial scientific evidence of balanced veget-
arian diets as nutritionally adequate, healthy, and
beneficial to prevent certain chronic diseases (Sabaté
2003, Craig and Mangels 2009, Key et al 2006), we
develop a low-dairy vegetarian diet as an additional
illustrative scenario. Since the EAT Lancet reference
diet reflects a generally balanced and low-meat refer-
ence diet, we adapt this scenario by excluding meat
and fish products and assess protein and fat levels
against German recommended levels (see table S1).
As the resulting diet exceeds the recommended levels
for proteins and fats, there was no reason to increase
protein-rich or high-fat foods. We conclude that the
dietary pattern reflects balanced vegetarian dietary
habits, offering a broad variety of vegetables, fruits,
whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy foods and
oils (USDA 2015). Finally, the dietary composition
is scaled to the same energy demand as the other
scenarios. Similar to the other dietary pattern scen-
arios, this does not aim to represent an average veget-
arian diet in Germany, but rather an appropriate
explorative scenario to investigate possible resource
use reduction potential. As this first analysis of Ger-
man diets does not cover all nutritional factors, future
studies need to delve into the specific micronutrient
requirements of the plant-based scenarios to ensure
their viability and adjust their food composition. As
the DGE does not provide any recommendations for
sugar, sweeteners, and alcoholic beverages, we assume
this product group to comprise 10%1of the total diet
in the guideline diet. This corresponds to a halving
compared to the current diet, but still allows the con-
sumption of these product groups. The EAT Lan-
cet Commission does not specify alcoholic bever-
ages. Therefore, we apply the same quantity of alcohol
products as in the guideline diet scenario for the sus-
tainable diet and vegetarian diet scenarios.
The assessed dietary patterns represent variant
diets with an increased plant base (figure 2). The
current average energy intake is calculated based on
the IO-data provided by FABIO whereas the other
diets correspond to an intake of 2796 kcal a day as
explained above. The guideline diet involves a sig-
nificant decrease in meat products (98 g as com-
pared to the current 249 g per day), which are
partially replaced with dairy products. The sustain-
able diet replaces large shares of meat and dairy
1Based on the average recommendations for intake ofa dded sugars
from USDA (2015).
4
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
products with plant-based products, such as pulses,
beans, and nuts as well as vegetable oils. This diet
involves less potatoes and roots than the guideline
diet. The vegetarian diet is identical to the sustain-
able diet except for the replacement of meat and
fish with a proportional increase of other product
groups. The latter two dietary patterns meet the
energy requirements of 2796 kcal per day with about
500 g less of food per day than the guideline diet.
The current diet corresponds to an average energy
intake of 3107 kcal, with the uncertainty interval
of 2646 kcal to 3567 kcal (supplementary dataset
‘J. Uncertainty_SQ_Food_Intake’), because of uncer-
tainties in FLW levels (see section 2.3). The dietary
scenarios all exceed the national recommendations
for protein and fats (not accounting for micronu-
trients). Given that recommended individual energy
intakes for adults vary between 1700 kcal and
3100 kcal depending on age, sex and physical activ-
ity level (DGE 2019), the estimated status quo
average energy intake of 3107 kcal per capita and
day appears high. The plausibility and the implic-
ations of this estimation are further discussed in
section 4.2. However, the difference of 311 kcal
between the status quo scenario and the alternat-
ive dietary scenarios is within reasonable uncertainty
levels, i.e. the resulting impact of food intake reduc-
tion (only) in our dietary scenarios stays within
accepted uncertainty levels. All dietary patterns are
provided in detail together with nutritional data per
product in the supplementary dataset (‘G. Diets_
analysis’).
2.3. FLW estimations
For the assessments of a 50% food waste reduction, we
follow the FLW reporting standard (WRI 2016) and
the proposed interpretation of SDG 12.3 (Champions
12.3 2017) and define FLW as commodities that were
intended for human consumption, including their
non-edible parts. We use shares of FLW per product
group at each step along global supply chains and
applied these to all products in a respective product
group. For supply chain processes within Germany,
we use data from the national food waste baseline
report (Schmidt et al 2019) and from a study by WWF
Germany (2015). The latter is used to fill data gaps
of sufficiently disaggregated data in consumption and
distribution in the baseline report. For supply chain
processes outside of Germany, we use data from FAO
(2011), following the methodology outlined by SIK
(2013). However, this data excludes inedible parts of
plant-based products and eggs from the FLW estim-
ations and is therefore likely to underestimate the
FLW. To account for the uncertainties in post-harvest
FLW data, an uncertainty analysis was conducted by
assuming a range of variation of ±50% of the FLW
ratios. In cases where we found estimates in the liter-
ature diverging by more than 50%, we use these val-
ues as the respective maximum divergence. For more
details on the FLW data used, the uncertainty analysis
and the considered literature, see the SI.
3. Results
3.1. Healthy diets mostly more effective than food
waste reduction
Our results show that dietary changes are particu-
larly effective to decrease biomass and cropland foot-
prints, whereas blue water footprints are less respons-
ive to dietary change (figure 3). Halving food waste
corresponds to a decrease in resource footprints of
11%–15% (shown as FWin figure 3). The error
bars indicate uncertainty related to the assumed food
waste shares in the status quo. Therefore, scenarios
with reduced food waste show a smaller uncertainty
range.
A change in dietary patterns to the sustainable
diet, i.e. the EAT Lancet Commission’s reference diet,
would result in reductions of the biomass, crop-
land, and blue water footprints by 54%, 43%, and
7% respectively. For cropland and biomass footprint
reductions, this scenario turns out to be three to five
times more effective than halving food waste with
no dietary changes. The latter has a biomass and
cropland saving potential of 11% and 15%, respect-
ively. For decreasing the blue water footprint, how-
ever, food waste reduction is more effective than diet-
ary changes (14% compared to up to 7%, depending
on dietary scenario). This is due to the particularly
high consumption of blue water in fruit and veget-
able growing, the proportion of which increases in
the alternative dietary scenarios. We enlarge upon this
in section 3.3. For the more conservative guideline
diet, the water footprint even increases by 6% if not
combined with food waste reduction measures. This
dietary pattern reduces biomass and cropland foot-
prints by 19% and 22%, respectively, compared to
11% and 15% for the food waste reduction scenario.
With a vegetarian diet, the biomass footprint can be
decreased by up to 61%, the cropland footprint by
48%, and the blue water footprint by 7%. This implies
that a mainly plant-based diet reduces cropland and
biomass footprints three to six times as much as the
food waste reduction scenario. To reduce water foot-
prints, however, reducing food waste is twice as effect-
ive as changing diets to the sustainable or vegetarian
diets, and even more compared to the guideline diet.
3.2. Product footprints and composition of food
explain outcomes
While the total biomass and cropland footprints
related to animal-based products plummet with diet-
ary changes, those of plant-based products increase
by up to 41%. The overall decrease of footprints,
thus, is related to the reduction of animal-based
products in diets, which are the most resource-
intensive foodstuffs. Today, 72% and 82% of the total
cropland and biomass footprints, respectively, are
5
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
Current diet Sustainable
diet
Vegetarian
diet
Current diet Guideline diet Sustainable
diet
Vegetarian
diet
a
b
c
Change: 11% 19% 26% 54% 59% 61% 65%
Change: 15% 22% 29% 43% 48% 48% 53%
Change: 14% +6% 6% 7% 17% 7% 16%
Biomass footprint
Cropland footprint
Blue water footprint
Guideline diet
Guideline diet
704 609 768 661 690 600 729 634
3,174
2,833
2,388 2,198
1,086 999 774 715
0
500
1,000
1,500
2,000
2,500
3,000
3,500
4,000
4,500
FW↓ FW↓ FW↓ FW↓
Biomass footprint (kg cap-1 y-1)
Current diet Sustainable
diet
Vegetarian
diet
612 468 638 565 757 683 800 722
1,572
1,388
1,072
984 491 451 330 304
0
500
1,000
1,500
2,000
2,500
FW↓ FW↓ FW↓ FW↓
Cropland footprint (m2cap-1 y-1)
19 16
25 22 24 22
25 23
9.3
8.3
5.1
4.8 2.5
2.3
1.2
1.1
0.0
5.0
10.0
15.0
20.0
25.0
30.0
35.0
40.0
FW↓ FW↓ FW↓ FW↓
Blue water footprint (m3 cap-1 y-1)
Plantbased Animalbased
Figure 3. Resource footprints by scenarios. (a) Biomass footprints in kg cap1yr1, (b) cropland use footprints in
m2cap1yr1, (c) blue water footprints in m3cap1yr1. FW=food waste reduction by 50%. The green parts describe the
share of footprints generated by plant-based food, orange represents the contribution of animal-based food. The error bars show
the results of the uncertainty analysis.
6
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
Status Quo
Guideline diet
Sustainable diet
Vegetarian diet
Food waste associated with dietary scenarios (kg cap1y1)
145
186
154
156
b
a
Figure 4. Interactions between diets and food waste quantities. (a) Resource intensities and waste shares of ten product groups.
Y-axes show biomass, cropland, and blue water footprints per million calories of energy content of eaten food, x-axes show food
waste shares. (b) Absolute amounts of food waste associated with each dietary scenario based on the dietary composition and
respective food waste shares. The figure reflects the main FLW estimates, uncertainty intervals for FLW data is found in the
supplementary dataset ‘I. Food_waste_shares’.
associated with the consumption of animal products.
For water footprints, only 32% of the current total
footprint comes from animal products (supplement-
ary dataset, ‘C. SQ_Analysis’).
A look at the peculiarities of individual foods
provides further insights. Figure 4(a) shows the rela-
tion between footprints per unit of mass and per
unit of energy content (y-axes) and food waste shares
(x-axes) for ten food categories. Meat has particularly
high footprints per mass unit for all three resources,
but most prominently for biomass and cropland
use (figure 4(a)). For water, the difference between
animal-based products and plant-based products is
not as pronounced, which also explains the smaller
difference for water footprints between the scenarios
in comparison to biomass and cropland. Plant-based
products generally show lower footprints per unit of
energy content, with vegetables and fruit being the
exceptions in terms of water footprints.
3.3. Product characteristics determine strategy
trade-offs
Based on the food waste estimates for each product
group underlying this study, we can expect interac-
7
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
tions and even goal conflicts between the strategies
of dietary change and food waste reduction. Veget-
ables, cereals, fruit, potatoes, and roots are associ-
ated with higher levels of food waste (figure 4(a)).
Subsequently, an increased share of these product
groups in the dietary pattern might cause the overall
amounts of food waste to grow, which may hamper
the possibility of reaching the political target of halv-
ing food waste. Figure 4(b) shows the composition
and amounts of food waste for the assessed dietary
scenarios and the current diet. Given that food waste
shares of each product remain the same, this shows
that changes according to the dietary scenarios would
increase the amounts of food waste, in particular for
the guideline diet.
The main question here is how this interaction
affects the total footprints of food consumption.
Plant-based products that are associated with rel-
atively high levels of food waste are particularly relev-
ant in this context. If a dietary shift includes greater
amounts of such products, there is a risk of increased
amounts of food waste. At the same time, larger shares
of these products decrease the overall footprints of
food consumption, with the water footprint in the
case of the guideline diet as the only exception. Thus,
in terms of both total consumption footprints and
food waste footprints, scenarios of dietary change
would be beneficial. In combination with decreased
food waste, in particular for fruit and vegetables, also
water footprints decrease for all scenarios. Because of
the simultaneous reduction in footprints and increase
in food waste associated with dietary changes, total
resource losses are not reflected in the amount of food
waste. Resource footprint indicators, which embed
the overall resource use and loss associated with final
consumption (from food losses in agriculture to con-
version rates in processing and food losses along the
whole supply chain), would thus be better suited for
political target setting. These losses are much higher
than what is addressed as food waste (Shepon et al
2018).
4. Discussion
The results show that changes in dietary patterns have
significantly higher potential to decrease resource
footprints than halving food waste (up to 65% in
comparison to 15%). There is also a risk of coun-
teractive interactions between the strategies, which is
associated with product characteristics. These find-
ings are of particular significance for policies address-
ing footprints and the sustainability of our food
system. Next to significantly reducing resource foot-
prints, political strategies promoting more sustain-
able diets also have positive side effects on human
health, which is relevant for policies aimed at improv-
ing people’s health, especially in an aging society such
as Germany (Tilman and Clark 2014, Clark et al
2019).
4.1. New evidence on resource footprints and
strategy interactions
Few studies have addressed the implications of the
circumstance that cereals, potatoes, roots, fruit, and
vegetables are associated with greater food waste
shares but generally lower footprints (Conrad et al
2018). This study adds new evidence to the chal-
lenging trade-off between healthier diets and food
waste. The importance of the resource efficiency of
food products themselves in comparison to losses was
underlined by Shepon et al (2018), showing that the
‘conversion loss’ of animal products by far exceeds
total food losses. Our results confirm that includ-
ing biomass footprints in resource efficiency assess-
ments allows capturing all types of resource losses in
one indicator and thereby reflects resource efficiency
more adequately than the amount of food waste.
The results of this study substantiate other
research findings regarding the high potential of
dietary changes to decrease resource footprints
(Aleksandrowicz et al 2016, Bryngelsson et al 2016,
Behrens et al 2017, Conrad et al 2018, Vanham
et al 2018). A literature review across countries
(the majority European) shows average land sav-
ings of 20% for diets following dietary guidelines,
51% for vegetarian diets, and 55% for vegan diets
(Aleksandrowicz et al 2016). This is very much in
line with our results of 22% land savings for the
guideline diet and 48% for the low-dairy veget-
arian diet. For blue water footprints, previous stud-
ies show an average decrease of 37% for vegetarian
diets and 22% for diets following the local dietary
guidelines (Aleksandrowicz et al 2016, Vanham et al
2018). Our results show a smaller impact of dietary
changes on the blue water footprint, ranging between
+6% and 7%. Particularly the blue water footprint
of diets varies among studies (Meier and Christen
2013, Aleksandrowicz et al 2016, Tom et al 2016,
Rehkamp and Canning 2018). Our results differ from
a study focusing on Germany that shows a tripling in
blue water use for vegan and vegetarian diets, with
more than two-thirds of the footprint being asso-
ciated with nuts and oilseeds (Meier and Christen
2013). Although the authors do not further explain
the deviation from other studies, the inventory data of
1425 l of blue water per kilogram of nuts and oilseeds
(Meier and Christen 2013) indicate a particularly
water-intensive composition of this product group
(see Mekonnen and Hoekstra 2011). Differences in
the reduction potentials among different countries
can be explained by differences in consumption pat-
terns, supply chain structures, and production meth-
ods (Kim et al 2020).
4.2. Limitations and future research needs
Limitations of this study mainly include the pre-
viously discussed uncertainty of FLW data and the
resulting high average energy intake. Additionally,
the lack of environmental data related to fish and
8
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
the absence of other indicators such as a scarcity-
weighted water footprint, pastures, nutrient loss, and
greenhouse gas emissions leave room for improve-
ment. Complementing nutrition studies need to delve
into the nutritional viability of dietary patterns.
The current average energy intake of 3107 kcal
appears high in comparison with survey-based data
on German food consumption habits, which has sev-
eral possible reasons. A comprehensive German sur-
vey showed an average energy intake of 2159 kcal per
person and day from 2005 to 2013 (Gose et al (2016),
average from table 4, converted to kcal). The product
groups mainly contributing to the difference to the
FAO data used in our study are meat and alcohol.
The survey acknowledges an expected underreport-
ing of energy intake of 11%–17%, which would imply
a total energy intake of 2396–2526 kcal per person
and day. Heseker et al (1994) came to a similar aver-
age energy intake of 2414 kcal (p 123, converted to
kcal). The difference to our resulting average energy
intake is about 650 kcal, with an uncertainty interval
of 185–921 kcal. The most possible sources of error of
our estimate involve uncertainties in FLW data and a
detected discrepancy in the product energy content in
FAO data. The high uncertainty in FLW data is mainly
due to the lack of proper monitoring possibilities, as
well as the exclusion of inedible parts of plant-based
products and eggs as waste flows, which may contrib-
ute to an underestimation of FLW. Given the high
uncertainty of FLW data, the uncertainty intervals are
highly relevant for the interpretation of the results.
Additionally, we noted a discrepancy in FAO energy
content data. In this study, we used the energy content
data given in the Food Balance Sheet (FBS) handbook
(FAO 2001) (see supplementary dataset ‘G. Diet com-
position’). However, our estimations are, on average,
12% higher than the energy content derived from the
FBS for Germany (reported in kcal and kg per capita).
Diverging data within FAO or possible moisture con-
tent inconsistency of product group reporting con-
stitute ambiguities. We keep to the data provided by
FAO (2001) while assessing the implications of pos-
sible data faults. With the maximum waste levels in
our uncertainty range, this study estimates the cur-
rent diet to consist of 2646 kcal (see supplementary
dataset ‘J. Uncertainty SQ Food Intake’). Assuming
these higher levels of FLW and a more conservative
estimation of current food intake, the effects of food
waste reduction in the current diet would be 17% for
biomass, 20% for cropland, and 21% for blue water
(the lower bound of our uncertainty range). The pos-
sibly lower energy content of all diets does not alter
the main conclusions of the study.
Fish is considered to be an environmentally
friendly substitute for meat (Willett et al 2019). How-
ever, while fish is shown to be preferable over meat
in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land-use
change, fish from pond aquaculture has a remark-
ably high blue water footprint (Kim et al 2020).
The dietary patterns in this study only include small
amounts of fish, the sustainable diet being the one
with the largest share of fish. Thus, the water foot-
print for this diet may be slightly underestimated.
However, the environmental relevance of water foot-
prints depends on the water scarcity at the point of
withdrawal (Ridoutt and Huang 2012), which is not
accounted for in the present study. Scarcity-weighted
national water footprints are relatively high in the case
of nuts, fish, red meat, chicken, and olive oil (Clark
et al 2019). Thus, a closer look into the scarcity-
weighted water footprint of these products would be
useful. Similarly, increased nuances of dietary assess-
ments can be achieved by also accounting for pas-
tures, land-use suitability, and availability. Based on
this perspective, a study of US food consumption
concludes that some balanced omnivore diets have a
higher carrying capacity than vegan diets (Peters et al
2016). To get a more holistic view of the environ-
mental impacts of different target scenarios, studies
on carbon footprints and nutrient cycles is needed.
Indirectly, these aspects are partly captured as the
sustainable diet scenario is based on a reference diet
that considers environmental requirements including
nutrients and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover,
this study assumes as a baseline for all scenarios
the German food supply chains of 2013. In real-
ity, supply chains change to some degree when diet-
ary patterns are altered and the product composi-
tion changes. Changing dietary patterns would also
provide opportunities to change production patterns
accordingly. For instance, reduced demand for certain
crops in some parts of the world can ease the pres-
sure on valuable ecosystem services in other parts, but
at the same time, demand can increase the produc-
tion of more sustainable alternatives in the country
of consumption.
4.3. Expanding the scope of political actions
The potential of dietary changes for resource savings
and public health opens up a broader scope of policy
options. We reveal that dietary changes could be up
to six times more effective in decreasing resource
footprints than halving food waste. These findings
urge policymakers to consider consumption-oriented
political actions. Political instruments to implement
targets of healthier and increasingly plant-based diet-
ary patterns can comprise a mix of approaches. These
include legal tools such as changing macro-economic
policies, fiscal measures, and stricter marketing rules
for unhealthy food, as well as promotion and support-
ive strategies such as nudging through changing store
layouts, education, empowering community initiat-
ives, and offering healthy and sustainable food in
schools (Garnett et al 2015, UNEP 2016). At the
same time, effective political instruments for food
waste reduction are still not in place. So far, the Ger-
man strategy mainly relies on a dialog forum for
stakeholders, workshops, and information campaigns
9
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
(BMEL 2019). Thus, even reaching the comparat-
ively small potential to reduce the footprint by halv-
ing food waste is still in the distant future. Pre-
sumably, it is easier to suggest food waste reduction
than dietary changes, as the latter invokes individual
food consumption habits which are often a sensitive
topic. However, research on food waste causes and
reduction measures shows that food waste reduction
also requires considerable behavioral changes, such
as shopping and cooking habits (Stancu et al 2016,
Hebrok and Boks 2017, Schanes et al 2018). How-
ever, the responsibility is perceived as more clearly
shared with food supply stakeholders and the indi-
vidual changes seem less intrusive. Nevertheless, the
obscure necessity of behavioral change to decrease
food waste may hinder successful implementation.
4.4. Risks from current political targets and
indicators
Based on our findings, we conclude that focus-
ing solely on targets and indicators for food waste
may be misleading in achieving the overarching
goal of significantly reducing the resource footprints
of food consumption. However, policies address-
ing dietary shifts would lead to an increased pro-
portion of cereals, roots, potatoes, fruit, and veget-
ables in the diet—this will lead to an increase in
food waste as these products have higher food waste
ratios, although they will still reduce overall resource
footprints.
We show that footprint indicators could help
political prioritization and target setting. At present,
footprint indicators are entirely lacking in policy
strategies and target monitoring tools for the food
sector. The SDG 12 indicators in the proposed
list as of 2016 (IAEG-SDGs 2016) do include the
material footprint, although not specifically for the
food sector. Indicators that capture the trade-offs
between resource use and food waste reduction are
lacking. The EU action plan for the Circular Eco-
nomy (EC 2015) has similar shortcomings. The
first monitoring framework lacks footprint indic-
ators and instead focuses largely on the quantific-
ation of waste (EC 2018). The basic deficiencies
in this monitoring approach (EC 2018) are high-
lighted by Helander et al (2019). In the recently
updated Circular Economy Action Plan (EC 2020),
an update of the monitoring framework is fore-
seen, which intends to include indicators on resource
use and material footprints. To monitor strategies
related to the food sector particularly, we suggest
including resource footprints of food consumption
in the updated version of the monitoring frame-
work. The possible trade-offs between goals revealed
by this study emphasize the necessity of including
such indicators if a circular economy is to help avoid
the irreversible damages caused by the high rate of
resource consumption, as the action plan suggests
(EC 2015).
5. Conclusion
Food waste is currently a predominant issue in
policies aimed at reducing the resource use of food
production and consumption. However, our res-
ults reveal that, for Germany, attaining the SDG
12.3 target of halving food waste is by far a less
effective strategy to achieve actual resource sav-
ings than dietary changes. Adopting healthy dietary
patterns—like the reference diet from the EAT Lancet
Commission—would alone decrease biomass, land,
and water footprints of German food consumption
by around 54%, 43%, and 7%, respectively, whereas
halving food waste yields only up to 20% resource-
saving potentials (including uncertainty range). A
combination of the two strategies has evidently the
highest potential. However, we reveal potentially con-
flicting outcomes of a dietary change on food waste
and resource use. Dietary shifts towards healthier
and more sustainable diets may impede reaching the
goal of halving food waste, as the change implies
an increase in products associated with higher food
waste shares. Subsequently, policies addressing diet-
ary shifts may find themselves at cross-purposes to
policies addressing FLW. Therefore, policies should
be complemented with resource footprint indicators
capturing the overall resource use rather than sep-
arate measures of FLW or dietary shifts. We con-
clude that an exclusive focus on food waste would
potentially mislead policymakers and prevent them
from addressing diets, despite being the more effect-
ive strategy for reducing resource use. Thus, com-
plementing food waste reduction targets with meas-
ures to change dietary patterns as well as targets for
the related resource footprint reduction can yield
much larger benefits for the environment. Thereby
the SDGs, EU and national policies, particularly in
high-income countries like Germany, could be more
effective to address global resource and environ-
mental challenges that are currently jeopardizing the
future food supply.
Data availability statement
The data that support the findings of this study are
available upon reasonable request from the authors.
Data will be available from 18 October 2020.
Acknowledgments
The German Federal Ministry of Education and
Research supported this research as part of the
research group ‘Circulus—Opportunities and chal-
lenges of transition to a sustainable circular bio-
economy’, Grant Number 031B0018. M Bruck-
ner’s contribution was funded by the European
Research Council (Grant Agreement Number
725525) and the Austrian Science Fund (Project
Number P 31598_G31). S Bringezu´s contribution
10
Environ. Res. Lett. 16 (2021) 054033 H Helander et al
benefitted from the coordination of the German
Federal Ministry of Education and Research project
‘SYMOBIO—Systemic Monitoring and Modelling of
the Bioeconomy’, Grant Number 031B0281A. The
authors thank the anonymous reviewers for provid-
ing comments that improved the manuscript and
Amelia Pope for proofreading the final article.
Author contributions
H Helander conceived the first research idea, carried
out the analyses and footprint calculations as well as
took the lead in writing the manuscript. A Petit-Boix,
S Leipold and S Bringezu contributed to the devel-
opment of research questions and research design.
M Bruckner supported the analysis. M Bruckner,
A Petit-Boix, S Leipold and S Bringezu reviewed vari-
ous versions of the manuscript and wrote/contrib-
uted to specific passages with literature. All authors
gave their final approval to the manuscript.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no competing interests.
ORCID iDs
Hanna Helander https://orcid.org/0000-0002-
6773-3300
Martin Bruckner https://orcid.org/0000-0002-
1405-7951
Sina Leipold https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5245-
183X
Anna Petit-Boix https://orcid.org/0000-0003-
2048-2708
Stefan Bringezu https://orcid.org/0000-0001-
8745-984X
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12
... As a member State, Germany adopted these strategies as part of the national agricultural policy objectives, including nutrition and animal welfare labeling actions, which require impact assessments along the entire supply chain (BMEL, 2020). Nevertheless, Western diets are predominant in Germany, negatively affecting human health and the environment (Helander et al., 2021;Meier et al., 2014). The prevalence of overweight and obesity in the country is about 60% among men and 43% among women (Stehle, 2014). ...
... The effectiveness of supply-side measures is limited if consumers keep choosing high-impact products (Poore and Nemecek, 2018). However, influencing consumers' choices entails a substantial challenge, which could be partially overcome by communicating simplified outcomes from complementary scientific analyses, to enhance education, dialog and public awareness (Helander et al., 2021;Karlsson Potter and Röös, 2021). A sustainable development path towards changing consumption patterns within the EU requires an overall decoupling of environmental impacts from economic growth, combining sustainability metrics and economic indicators that could easily be integrated into decision-making (Sanyé-Mengual et al., 2019). ...
... It must also be noted that system boundaries do not include end-of-life (e.g., human excretions, wastewater treatment), which generate additional environmental burdens (Notarnicola et al., 2017b). Including food waste disposal is particularly key in addressing overall food systems' sustainability and the implications of EU food waste reduction strategies (Esposito et al., 2016;European Commission, 2017;Helander et al., 2021). Several studies propose new methods to estimate waste along the supply chain in the EU, underlining the importance of improving the evaluation of critical sectors from processing to the household, where plant-based foods are mostly wasted (i.e., cereals, fruits and vegetables) (Caldeira et al., 2021(Caldeira et al., , 2019De Laurentiis et al., 2020). ...
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Western diets are associated with multiple environmental impacts and risks to human health. European countries are gradually taking action towards the Farm to Fork Strategy, embracing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) perspective to promote the sustainability of food production and consumption. Although LCA enables the comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts, diet-related human health and animal welfare impacts are often underrepresented. This study proposes integrating additional indicators into LCA to evaluate the sustainability of diets under the One Health (OH) approach, which holistically considers interlinked complex health issues between humans, animals and the environment. Human health loss is estimated according to risk factors for non-communicable diseases; while animal welfare is measured as animal life years suffered, loss of animal lives and loss of morally-adjusted animal lives. The extended LCA framework is applied to men and women's reference diets in the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW); compared to three optimized dietary scenarios under nutritional constraints: 1) the national dietary guidelines, 2) a vegan diet (VD) and 3) a Mediterranean diet (MD). Men's reference diet causes greater impacts than women's across OH dimensions due to the higher food consumption, especially of ready-to-eat meals, sausages, meat, and sweetened and alcoholic beverages. Both reference diets are associated with risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, stroke and neoplasms. Besides meat, consumption of honey, fish and seafood has the greatest impact on animal welfare, because of the high number of individuals involved. Alternative diets improve the sustainability of food consumption in NRW, although trade-offs arise: MD worsens animal suffering due to the higher fish intake; water use increases in both VD and MD due the higher intake of nuts and vegetables. Results highlight the importance of including animal welfare and human health indicators in LCA to better elucidate the potential impacts of diets characterized by the high intake of animal products, from a OH perspective.
... However, data on these topics are limited and with non-univocal findings. Helander et al. (21) reported that a shift toward a healthy and sustainable diet can lead to an increased amount of food waste considering that a healthy diet is characterized by the consumption of products that largely contribute to food waste, such as fruit, vegetables, and milk. To the best of our knowledge, the relationship between the determinants of a healthy diet and food waste is a new area of interest investigated only in a few studies. ...
... For example, for the groups "fresh fruit" and "vegetables, " the maximum score (2 points) was set for "more than once a day, " a score of 1 was assigned to the option "once a day, " and 0 scores were assigned to the other reported intakes. The scores obtained from each category were summed up and four AIDGI levels were identified: low (0-18), medium-low (19-20), mediumhigh (21)(22)(23), and high (> 23). ...
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IntroductionFood loss and waste are urgent problems to address. Recent estimates highlighted that the highest quantities of waste are generated at the household level and for this reason, the interest in this sector has increased over years.Methods To investigate if there is a connection between consumers’ behaviors aiming at reducing food waste and consumers’ choices in adopting healthy eating habits, a survey among a sample (n = 2,869) representative of the Italian population was carried out with the use of validated questionnaires.ResultsResults demonstrated that the higher the adherence to the Italian dietary guidelines indicator (AIDGI) the higher the score measuring household food waste behaviors (HFWB). In particular, the highest AIDGI corresponds to a preponderance of respondents that was more able to plan the shopping and the use of food (38.9%, p < 0.001), to better evaluate the quantities to cook (40.4%, p < 0.001), to avoid impulsive buying (35.2%, p < 0.01), to have a high knowledge of the food stored (38.4%, p < 0.001), to reuse leftovers (35.4%, p < 0.001), to assess food safety (34.7%, p < 0.001), to plan accurately (34.9%, p < 0.01), to know how to prolong the shelf life of a product (34%, p < 0.05), and to cook creatively (32%, p < 0.01). In addition to that, half of the respondents with the lowest AIDGI score did not receive any education regarding food waste (51.1%, p < 0.001). HFWB indicators globally resulted in scores ranging from 40 to 80% revealing the attention of Italians to food waste issues. Regarding eating habits, in half of the sample (50.4%) a consumption pattern with low adherence to nutritional recommendations was found, in particular among men (34.4%), younger age groups (40%), and people living in large families (42.3%).DiscussionThe overall results provided interesting information that could give input for planning nutrition education actions and identifying targets and topics to be addressed.
... A growing number of studies is investigating the contribution of the food system to climate and land use change (Auclair and Burgos, 2021;Kim et al., 2020;Meier and Christen, 2013;Osei-Owusu et al., 2021). In the search for strategies to reduce land demand and GHG emissions related to the growing demand for food, changes in dietary patterns in industrialized countries, in particular a reduction of animal-sourced products, have been shown to be promising (Ivanova et al., 2020;Sun et al., 2022) and exceeding, for example, emission reductions through food waste prevention (Helander et al., 2021). More recently, also studies analyzing the impact of shifts to food commodities produced locally or under organic production have been presented (Pradhan et al., 2020;Smith et al., 2019;Treu et al., 2017). ...
... The reduction of avoidable food waste in retail, household's and food services by 50%, in contrast, contributes only moderately to these reductions, mainly because according to available data food wastes in Austria amount to only 16% of kcal food supply or 10% of kcal food supply if only the avoidable fraction is considered. This underlines the high significance of dietary change to achieve substantial reductions of GHG emissions and the land footprint of the food system (Helander et al., 2021). Our analysis of the different diets also highlights that it is important to look beyond the share of overall meat consumption. ...
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The provision of food is fundamental for society, but it is also a major driver of environmental change. Cities are important consumers of food, harboring more than half of the global population, a share that is expected to grow in the coming decades. Here we investigate the urban food system of Vienna, a large central European city. We quantify the land and greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of Vienna's food system and explore potentials to reduce the urban footprint through changes in food consumption, applying a counterfactual approach. We systematically compare the land and GHG effect of a shift of consumption towards i) diets with a lower share of animal products, ii) food from regional agriculture and iii) food from organic agriculture, based on the FoodClim model presented in this study. Our results show that Vienna's food system currently requires 639000 ha of agricultural land, about two thirds of it in foreign countries and emits 2.29 Mt CO2e/yr over the whole supply chain. A change in diets has the largest impact, reducing both Vienna's food system land footprint by 54% and its GHG footprint by 57%, while the effect of regionalization is comparatively small. Combined scenarios show that it is possible to maintain a healthy level of meat in diets and to switch to organic agriculture with lower land and livestock productivities and to still save half of the GHG emissions, while avoiding an expansion of the land footprint.
... tion/ educa tion/food-dieta ry-guide lines/ regio ns/count ries/denma rk/en/ for more information). However, water footprint may be the most problematic environmental aspect in which to achieve improvements through dietary guidelines, as shown in the studies described above and also in a recent German analysis, which found that meeting national recommendations would increase water footprint (+6%), due largely to higher amounts of food waste associated with fruit, vegetables and other plant-derived foods in the recommended diet (Helander et al., 2021). In contrast, reducing current levels of retail and consumer waste by half (in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal target 12.3) was predicted to reduce blue water footprint by 14%. ...
... Furthermore, continued improvements to the efficiency of agricultural production will need to be accompanied by reductions in food waste throughout the food system, including in the home, irrespective of the nature of any dietary changes that are made. However, there is the potential for undesirable effects if dietary change in fact drives an increase in food waste (Conrad & Blackstone, 2021), particularly with respect to water footprint associated with greater wastage of plant-derived foods (Helander et al., 2021). ...
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Debate persists around the food production and dietary changes needed to improve sustainability of our global food system. We reviewed 29 studies in high-income countries that used various methodologies to define a healthier, more sustainable diet. Diets aligned with dietary guidelines, containing less meat and higher amounts of plant-derived foods (vegetables, pulses [beans/lentils], fruit, wholegrains, nuts, seeds) would likely offer environmental benefits (~20–50% lower greenhouse gas emissions [GHGE] and land use) and improve population health, although may not reduce water footprint. Changes in consumption of milk products and eggs were inconsistent in optimisation studies, perhaps reflecting trade-offs between their nutrient contribution and environmental impact. Foods high in fat, salt and/or sugar, and beverages (e.g. tea, coffee and fruit juices) contributed substantially to environmental footprints in some studies. Vegetarian and vegan diets may deliver larger environmental benefits, but are unlikely to be widely adopted, and may reduce intakes and/or bioavailability of some essential nutrients (e.g. iron, zinc, iodine and B12). We recommend adherence to existing government dietary guidelines as a more realistic goal to improve environmental (e.g. 30% lower GHGE in the UK) and health impacts of diets, recognising that adherence is currently relatively poor. Wider considerations include: context-specific nutritional, health, cost and cultural needs; need for public engagement to understand barriers/motivators; better understanding of the wider implications and trade-offs linked to dietary and food system changes and how these can be managed, so that benefits in high-income countries do not come at the expense of greater ‘outsourced’ environmental impacts in other regions.
... As fear of getting sued, companies, people, and organizations were not donating, though their desires were the opposite. It is worth emphasizing that national and supranational policies focus on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as the number 12, focused on reducing and minimizing food waste by 2030 [88]. As a result, the growing international and national policies' development regarding circular economy practices is becoming more critical over the years [78,144]. ...
Chapter
Unsustainable food supply chains are negatively affecting the environment. As a result, this topic has been debated worldwide, and several actors came to the same conclusions: intervention and actions are a must. Nonetheless, this approach was not standardized, and countries and companies are implementing circular economies differently. This chapter aims to outline the current circular economy approach taken internationally and discuss the barriers of this last. A qualitative analysis was conducted by collecting several case studies and understanding the identified practices and challenges. In the findings, the authors discovered that countries’ policies remain weak globally, though the demand is increasing. Drawbacks and limitations such as economic resources, technological innovation, and incentives are evidenced. © 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.
... Especially with the rapid increase in new pb meat and cheese alternative products available, as shown in the market analysis (Table 3), the importance of these products in consumers' daily food choices has increased. Recent studies have shown that shifting to a diet with a reduction or elimination of animal-based products to more whole-grain foods and pb foods has been one of the most important dietary strategies on a global scale for both the planet and human health [32][33][34][35]43]. A study by Kemper and White [44] showed that the pb product category's dietary implications and individual diversity have gained importance as more people adopt flexitarian, vegetarian, and vegan dietary styles. ...
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In recent decades, the demand, supply, and consumption of plant-based (pb) alternative products have increased worldwide. The objective of this study was to characterize pb meat and cheese products and compare them with their respective animal-based products. Data were collected in online market analyses (2019/2021). Nutritional data, Nutri-Score, and analysis of micronutrients are presented in this article. The number of products has grown in all categories, with the largest increase of 110% in pb cheese. The main protein sources in pb meat were soy and wheat, followed by an increasing use of peas. Pb meat generally contained less energy and total and saturated fat, but more carbohydrates and sugars than meat. In pb cheese, the protein content was lower than that of cheese. In 3 of 17 food groups, the salt content of pb alternatives was lower than in animal products. The daily requirement for iron could be covered better by pb alternatives than previously anticipated as well as the need for the vitamins E and K. The calculated Nutri-Score was generally lower for pb meat and higher for pb cheese than for the respective animal products. The trend towards consumption of pb alternative products is increasing, but the high level of processing, wide range of nutrients, and high salt content indicate the need for nutritional guidelines for these products.
Chapter
Limiting meat consumption can and must play an important role in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and Chaps. 8 and 9 will look at ways to approach that challenge. However, the importance and effectiveness of reducing meat consumption has often been exaggerated and distorted. In the United States, Canada, and the European Union greenhouse gas emissions from transportation far exceed emissions from the whole agricultural sector, as do emissions from other sectors such as industry and energy production. In addition, livestock plays a critical role in organic and sustainable agricultural systems, and significant declines in beef consumption in the U.S. have not been correlated with a reduction in agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. When the only two options discussed are continuing current trends in livestock production or eliminating livestock agriculture, neither farmers nor policymakers are likely to make constructive changes.
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Understanding how a circular economy (CE) can reduce environmental pressures from economic activities is crucial for policy and practice. Science provides a range of indicators to monitor and assess CE activities. However, common CE activities, such as recycling and eco-design, are contested in terms of their contribution to environmental sustainability. This article assesses whether and to what extent current approaches to assess CE activities sufficiently capture environmental pressures to monitor progress toward environmental sustainability. Based on a material flow perspective , we show that most indicators do not capture environmental pressures related to the CE activities they address. Many focus on a single CE activity or process, which does not necessarily contribute to increased environmental sustainability overall. Based on these results, we suggest complementing CE management indicators with indicators capturing basic environmental pressures related to the respective CE activity. Given the conceptual linkage between CE activities , resource extraction, and waste flows, we suggest that a resource-based footprint approach accounting for major environmental inputs and outputs is necessary-while not sufficient-to assess the environmental sustainability of CE activities. As footprint approaches can be used across scales, they could aid the challenging process of developing indicators for monitoring progress toward an environmentally sustainable CE at the European, national, and company levels.
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The food system is a major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs. Here we show that between 2010 and 2050, as a result of expected changes in population and income levels, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. We analyse several options for reducing the environmental effects of the food system, including dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste. We find that no single measure is enough to keep these effects within all planetary boundaries simultaneously, and that a synergistic combination of measures will be needed to sufficiently mitigate the projected increase in environmental pressures.
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The water footprint concept has been recognized as being highly valuable for raising awareness of the large quantity of water resources required to produce the food we consume. We present, for three major European countries (the United Kingdom, France and Germany), a geographically detailed nationwide food-consumption-related water footprint, taking into account socio-economic factors of food consumption, for both existing and recommended diets (healthy diet with meat, healthy pescetarian diet and healthy vegetarian diet). Using socio-economic data, national food surveys and international food consumption and water footprint databases, we were able to refine national water footprint data to the smallest possible administrative boundaries within a country (reference period 2007–2011). We found geographical differences in water footprint values for existing diets as well as for the reduction in water footprints associated with a change to the recommended healthy diets. For all 43,786 analysed geographical entities, the water footprint decreases for a healthy diet containing meat (range 11–35%). Larger reductions are observed for the healthy pescetarian (range 33–55%) and healthy vegetarian (range 35–55%) diets. In other words, shifting to a healthy diet is not only good for human health, but also substantially reduces consumption of water resources, consistently for all geographical entities throughout the three countries. Our full results are available as a supplementary dataset. These data can be used at different governance levels in order to inform policies targeted to specific geographical entities. © 2018, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.