United to understand and fight food waste

United to understand and fight food waste

February 01, 2019

United to understand and fight food waste

In February, Italy celebrates its national day against food waste, the ideal opportunity to reflect on the scarce sustainability of the current food system, in which far too much food is still thrown away or “lost”.

Italy’s National Day Against Food Waste, which has been held at the beginning of February since 2014, has reached its 6th edition. The yearly event was established by the Italian Ministry of the Environment, in partnership with the Spreco Zero (Zero Waste) campaign and the Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences (DISTAL) of the University of Bologna, based on a project by Andrea Segrè. The circular and sustainable ecological economics expert is also 

the creator of Last Minute Market, a spin-off of the University of Bologna founded in 1998 as a research initiative that now is an enterprise operating across Italy with the objective of preventing and reducing food waste. Last Minute Market includes the Waste Watcher Observatory, which monitors Italians’ food habits and wastes and publishes its findings in a yearly report.

What are we talking about?

Not all food is “wasted”. Part of it is “lost”, say experts, explaining that food loss refers to the decrease of food intended for human consumption that occurs during the earlier stages of the food supply chain: production, post-harvest and processing stages. On the other hand, food waste happens at the end stages of the food supply chain and is typically ascribed to retailers and consumers. Definitions aside, data are clear. According to the FAO’s website, Save Food, 45% of fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals and 20% of dairy products, meat, oilseeds and pulses produced in the world are wasted. When looking at the details, it is obvious how the weakest links of the food supply chain vary considerably depending on geographical location and type of food. For example, in the so-called developed countries (Europe, North America and Oceania), cereals are mostly wasted at final consumer level, while in developing countries (Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-east Asia), the main issues are in the harvesting and post-harvesting stages. 


Waste and sustainable development 

Food waste is one of the great challenges of sustainability, as defined by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. For example, Objective 12 refers specifically to responsible consumption and production, but it is not the only objective on which food waste has a considerable impact. When talking about poverty (Objective 1), it is important to remember that food waste amounts to 1,000 billion dollars per year, while when considering the fight to eradicate hunger (Objective 2), experts say that by reducing food waste by 25%, there would be enough food to feed all the people who are currently malnourished. The list is still long and includes objectives aimed at creating sustainable cities (Objective 11), keeping the oceans safe and clean (Objective 14), protecting the environment (Objective 15) and fighting climate change (Objective 13). As a matter of fact, food wasted/lost generates 8% of global greenhouse emissions


What Italy is doing right

In 2016, Italy implemented a law (n. 166 of 19 August, Gadda Law) that aims to reduce food waste (including pharmaceutical waste) across all stages of the supply chain, from producers to final consumers, focusing especially on research and on informing and raising awareness among consumers and institutions. Additionally, food banks, coordinated by Rete Banco Alimentare, the national food bank network, operate throughout the country and can stipulate agreements with private companies to implement effective policies designed to prevent food waste. Overall, the quality of policies in response to food waste is good, also thanks to the national waste reduction plan PINPAS; in fact, with reference to this specific indicator, Italy ranks 5th among the 67 countries included in the Food Sustainability Index developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit in collaboration with BCFN. 

What needs improving 

Despite these positive notes, Italy still faces numerous unresolved issues in terms of food waste. Italian consumers, for example, waste far too much: on average 65 kg per person per year, according to FSI figures, which means Italy sits low in the ranking of the most virtuous countries (58th out of 67 globally, and 23rd out of 29 in Europe). If the final stage of the food supply chain is still a major problem, the amount of food lost in the earlier stages of production does not reach worrying levels (approximately 2%), despite scope for improvement. Based on these data, and those of the many indicators included in the FSI, Italy ranks somewhere in the middle: 31st out of 67 countries globally; 18th among the 35 high-income countries; and 13th among the 29 countries in the European Union, where France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are the countries that waste less. 

Find out more about Food and sustainability

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