The protocol could help governments and companies implement targeted efforts to reduce food loss and waste, according to a joint study ‘Reducing food loss and waste’ from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Other measures being called for include the setting of global, national, and corporate food loss and waste reduction targets on the order of 50%, doubling investment in reducing post-harvest losses in developing countries, and establishing agencies in developed countries tasked with reducing food waste.

The report, which draws on research from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, found that one out of every four calories produced by the global agricultural system is being lost or wasted.

It also showed striking differences in food waste trends between developed and developing nations. Across Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia more than half of the food wasted occurs at the consumption stage while in developing countries, two-thirds of food lost occurs after harvest and storage.

According to the study, the world will need about 60% more food calories in 2050 compared to 2006 if global demand continues on its current trajectory.

Halving current rates of food loss and waste could reduce this gap by a fifth. This would also result in major savings in water use, energy, pesticides and fertilisers, and would be a boost for global food security.

One of the study’s co-authors, Craig Hanson, who heads up the WRI’s people & ecosystems programme, said that reducing losses in the system was critical in building a more sustainable food future.

Meanwhile Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP executive director, said that everyone – from farmers and food companies to retailers, shipping lines, packagers, hotels, restaurants and households – had a role to play.

“It is an extraordinary fact that in the 21st century, close to 25% of all the calories linked with growing and producing food are lost or wasted between the farm and the fork,” he commented.

The report also features a number of best practice examples to showcase simple, low-cost solutions for reducing food losses.

For example, some US universities have discontinued the use of trays and introduced ‘pay by weight’ schemes and other incentives to reduce portion sizes in their cafeterias.

By going ‘trayless’ one university discarded almost 13 metric tonnes less food than in previous years, and conserved over 100,000 litres of water annually. Financial savings amounted to US$79,000 per year.

In conjunction with WRAP, UNEP is developing a food waste prevention and reduction toolkit for governments, companies and cities to help them better assess their own levels of food waste and devise strategies to reduce this. The toolkit is expected to be available before the end of this year.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie