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Food waste, let’s talk about consumers

Food waste, let's talk about consumers

. Reducing food loss and waste has been identified as a key demand-side adaptation policy to address the challenges of climate change. This awareness is reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 call, “By 2030, halve global food waste per capita at retail and consumer levels, and reduce food losses in production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.”

Reducing food loss and waste means improving resource efficiency, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions per unit of food consumption (1). In the reality that 11% of the world's population is undernourished and the food system cannot feed the population estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050 (2), wasting resources is simply unacceptable.

In order to achieve the 50% reduction target, Europe needs to act quickly. It must address food waste at all stages of the supply chain. Through the European Green Agreement and the farm-to-table strategy, the EU aims to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system. This transformation is based on four pillars:

Food loss and waste prevention, sustainable food production, sustainable food processing and distribution, sustainable food consumption.

When the final strategy is released in May 2020, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is putting tremendous pressure on the food system, attention to food loss and food waste prevention may be lower than expected. The "farm-to-table" strategy emphasizes the importance of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, but it only emphasizes the importance of reducing food waste at the consumer and retail level, and excludes food loss in the production and supply chain from the discussion Outside.

The food waste problem needs to be addressed at all levels of the supply chain. However, in Europe, the "fork" level is particularly important. The largest food waste in Europe occurs in the consumption stage, accounting for about 53% of it. There is no doubt that many causes of food waste at the consumer level are related to practices in the first few stages of the supply chain. Therefore, a systematic policy is required. The Fork to Farm strategy missed this point and only targeted consumption and retail levels, which violated its original purpose.

Why do European families look so wasteful? It may seem like a broad and difficult problem. Fortunately, several studies have been published to try to unravel the reality of household food waste:

Food (3) stored at too low or too high temperature will deteriorate faster than normal. Food purchased for specific occasions or special recipes may be kept in a cool corner of the cabinet for months or years (4). Poor shopping plans can exacerbate the "dark corner" phenomenon. This bad habit usually leads to buying what is already in the refrigerator or cabinet. Packaging should protect food and extend its shelf life, but it is often found to be a driver of food waste. This is the case of multiple packages and fixed portions, which may lead to over-purchasing and thus waste (5). Oversized packages and packages that are difficult to empty are other reasons why completely edible foods are thrown away (6). Misinterpretation of the meaning of "best before" and "time to eat" is a significant cause of household food waste, and it is also cited as one of the first problems to be solved in the Farm to Fork strategy (7). The aesthetic requirements that prompt us not to pick bruised apples from supermarket shelves may also play a role in the home environment (8).

If there is one thing that researchers never tire of repetition, it is that behavioral changes are not easy to achieve. Fortunately, many notable initiatives from the public and private sectors have joined the fight against food waste, with the goal of raising consumer awareness and promoting changes in their behavior.

WRAP, a charity from the United Kingdom, launched a publicity campaign called "Love Food and Hate Waste", aiming to spread knowledge about daily practical things in order to reduce food waste. By creating web pages displaying the best stored information, local radio advertisements, local online advertisements and cooking clubs, the campaign was able to reduce the avoidable food waste in West London by 14%.

Too Good To Go is a social impact company dedicated to eliminating food waste. It is not only dedicated to saving food at the retail level. The company also launched a holistic campaign around food waste, aiming to inspire 50 million people to change their behavior. how? One of the main initiatives is the date labeling campaign, which aims to clarify the difference between the "best before consumption" related to food quality and the "use period" related to food safety. Too Good To Go worked with food companies to change "best before" to "best before, but often after". In this way, consumers can eat foods that have passed the "best before date" more safely, and they will be reminded of the difference with the "use by date" every time they check the label (you can read Europe Zero Waste here case study) .

Grim is a Copenhagen-based company that provides subscription boxes full of ugly fruits and vegetables, which supermarkets generally do not accept due to strict aesthetic standards. The possible impact of Grim is not only related to the actual food saved. Consumers who buy the "ugly box" may be forced not to discard the imperfectly shaped cucumber the next time they go shopping in the grocery store.

French startup Phenix has saved about 60 million meals in 5 years by organizing the redistribution process of unsold food. One Phenix initiative is to create the "Gueules Cassées" label, which retailers can use to indicate the presence of discounted food. Discounts are usually due to short shelf life or appearance defects. Then encourage consumers to buy "same good but cheaper" food (you can read the case study of Zero Waste Europe here).These are just a few examples of entities involved in combating food waste and contributing to European goals through their work. However, a lot of work needs to be done, and a lot of work needs to be done at the policy level. To be effective, waste reduction policies should bear in mind the importance of understanding consumer behaviors and patterns so that they can be changed. In addition, over-blaming consumers may lead to oversimplification of the way to deal with food waste. Food waste is a complex issue and needs to be dealt with in this way. From the farm to the fork, they need to intervene to seek the interconnection between different levels, and understand that no one can be "wasteless" without focusing on the overall situation.

Do you want to know more? Read the zero waste European feedback on farm-to-table strategy.

As the world is still fighting COVID-19, we will continue to work for a waste-free future, which is good for mankind and the planet. This article is the second chapter of our brand new series. It tells how a fair food system can help create a zero waste and more sustainable future for all! Read the first chapter of this series to understand the need to switch to short food chains to reduce food waste: here.


1. FAO, 2019. The State of Food and Agriculture in 2019. Promote the reduction of food loss and waste.

2. FAO, 2019. The State of Food and Agriculture in 2019. Promote the reduction of food loss and waste.

3. Aschemann-Witzel et al., 2017. The key characteristics and success factors of supply chain initiatives to address consumer-related food waste-multiple case studies.

4. Wansink et al. 2000. The Mystery of the Cabinet Drifter: Why do we buy products that have never been used.

5. J.-P. Schweitzer, S. Gionfra, M. Pantzar, D. Mottershead, E. Watkins, F. Petsinaris, P. 10 Brink, E. Ptak, C. Lacey and C. Janssens (2018) : How single-use plastics cannot solve the food waste problem in Europe (and what we need to do). European Institute for Environmental Policy (IEEP), Brussels. A study conducted by Zero Waste Europe and Friends of the Earth Europe for the Rethink Plastic Alliance.

6. Wikström et al. 2014. The impact of packaging attributes on consumer behavior in food packaging life cycle assessment research-a neglected topic.

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