GFS report recommends new tool for age-old food waste problem

After preparing vegetable meal for cooking, women making compost from leftovers.

In a new report for UKRI’s Global Food Security (GFS) programme, early career researchers have advised how TCA could help reduce loss and waste across the food system.

Early career researchers from a variety of disciplines across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have worked together to establish evidence-based policy recommendations. This is in a bid to reduce the volume of waste throughout our food system.

They also aim to tackle the staggering ten percent of global greenhouse gas emissions that arise from food loss and food waste.

A collaborative approach

The recommendations form part of a wider report entitled: a tool in the toolkit: can true cost accounting remove siloed thinking about food loss and waste?

It was developed following a series of focus groups with stakeholders from across the whole food system, including:

  • food producers
  • wholesalers
  • retailers
  • researchers
  • restaurant owners
  • policy makers
  • civil society organisations (CSOs)
  • consumers.

The findings and evidence-based policy recommendations were then presented to government partners of the GFS programme. They were also presented in the Green Zone of the United Nations COP26 Climate Change conference last November.

True cost of food loss and waste

Food loss and waste have a surprisingly large impact on our society.

Globally, over a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year.

If food loss and waste were represented as a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses.

Food loss and waste also represents wasted fertilisers, pesticides, human effort, land use and money.

True cost accounting

The report explores whether the tool of true cost accounting (TCA) could be used to reduce the volume of loss and waste that occurs at every stage of the food system.

Producing, consuming and wasting food results in significant impacts that cost our society; costs that are not normally factored into the price of the food we buy.

Hidden external costs

Justine Pearce, one of the report authors, explains:

We are paying for this damage in hidden ways. Currently, for every £1 paid directly for food, we incur an additional £1 cost from hidden external costs.

The authors identify TCA as a way to minimise the mismatch between those who create societal costs and those who pay for them.

TCA can also be used as a tool to signal to consumers the social and environmental footprints of different food items. Therefore, empowering them to make personal choices to minimise food loss and waste.

More work is needed

Miranda Burke, report author, says:

We believe more work is needed to create a database linking relevant schemes and metrics, potentially providing an effective, holistic and simple labelling system for consumers.

Other recommendations identified in the report include mandatory reporting of the food lost and wasted from different stakeholders, with binding targets to decrease volumes on an annual basis.

Because as report author Mehroosh Tak points out, “what gets measured, gets managed”.

Report summary

A short video summary of the report findings: a tool in the toolkit: can true cost accounting remove siloed thinking about food loss and waste?

Video credit: Global Food Security
On-screen captions and an auto generated transcript is available on YouTube.

Further information

Policy recommendations

The policy recommendations are:

  • ensure supplier-retailer contracts address food loss and waste (FLW) at all points of the supply chain and mandate stakeholders to measure, state and reduce FLW in their contracts
  • hospitality, supermarkets and local authorities should be required to disclose all FLW and set mandatory annual targets to decrease FLW
  • review current rules and regulations regarding use and processing of FLW, and consider options for repurposing FLW, for example, as animal feed
  • address supply chain inefficiency: supporting public procurement directly from suppliers could decrease FLW, while simultaneously strengthening local economies
  • incentivise suppliers, retailers, and hospitality to address social, economic and environmental food system externalities, potentially offering incentives and rewards to do so via lower business rates
  • clear definitions of terminology including: food loss, food waste, surplus, inedible parts and destinations of food loss and waste. Development of government recognised language for system-wide standardisation of data recording.

Report authors

The authors drew on their diverse backgrounds, spanning across UKRI’s remit, to consider the whole food system and develop the interdisciplinary report:

  • Bernd Bonfert (Cardiff University)
  • Miranda Burke (Lancaster University)
  • Aoife Caffrey (Ulster University)
  • Siobhan Maderson (Aberystwyth University)
  • Amy Molotoks (Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York)
  • Justine Pearce (Royal Veterinary College)
  • Mehroosh Tak (Royal Veterinary College).

Top image:  Credit: svetikd, E+ via Getty Images

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