All Wasted

It is estimated that 20% of the food produced in the EU is wasted, while 36.2 million people cannot afford a meal every other day. What steps should the EU take to reduce food waste and grant its citizens access to nutritious food?


Globally, food waste accounts for nearly one third of the world’s total amount of food produced, while approximately 2.3 billion people in 2021 were moderately or severely food insecure. It is also estimated that 10-20% of food produced in the EU is wasted, and 71% of this waste arises from households. Meanwhile, approximately 33-36.2 million people are unable to afford a quality food meal every other day in the EU. 

The EU’s food waste is associated with the loss of 57 million tonnes of food and 130 billion euros, and it also accounts for 6% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it puts an unnecessary burden on limited natural resources, such as arable land and water. This issue creates an infinite circle of food waste contributing to global warming and which then contributes to ineffective food production conditions and food price inflation. 

Until recently, the real scope of food waste and its effects were poorly understood. As a result, the opportunities presented by reducing food waste have largely gone unrealized. This issue leads to unsure and unaware decisions regarding food waste reduction as well as the promotion of healthy food habits. In addition, a lack of awareness around this issue leads to wasteful food consumption in households. 

Althoguh there are many ways to make the food service industry less wasteful, 12% of our food waste comes from the food service industry. Not many places have taken measures to combat this issue as restaurants find it easier to trash food rather than become waste-free. Reducing food loss and waste at all levels including food services can save nutritious food for redistribution to those in needs, considering the average cost of groceries vastly increasing recently. 

The food waste is a big contributor to the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, however, the proper management of waste can not only eliminate the negative impact of the food waste but also bring a positive one. Although the usage of composting biodegradable waste has almost doubled from 2000 to 2021, in 2021 only 17% of municipal waste was composted. Since up to 50% of municipal solid waste is organic, there are ways of treating organic municipal waste that would be more friendly for the environment, such as the anaerobic digestion method. Through anaerobic digestion biogas, electricity, and heat, as well as high-quality bio-fertilizers can be produced.

Measures in Place:

In order to gradually solve the issue, the European Commission introduced the Farm to Fork Strategy, the heart of the European Green Deal. The Commission will propose legally binding targets to reduce food waste across the EU by the end of 2023. The proposed goals for reducing food waste are part of a larger effort to revise the Waste Framework Directive.

The Waste Framework Directive requires that Member States reduce food waste at each stage of the food supply chain, monitor food waste levels, and report back regarding progress made. It also requires Member States to prepare food waste prevention programs, encourage food donation and redistribution, and provide incentives for applying the waste hierarchy.

In 2021 the European Commission released the Inception Impact Assessment on setting EU-level Targets for Reducing Food Waste through the Have Your Say portal. The proposal to set EU-level targets is presented along with its policy background, aims, and policy options in the Inception Impact Assessment. This was one of the first major steps for addressing food waste as an issue. In October 2021 the European Commission held a targeted consultation with members of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste (FLW) on the policy options proposed in the Inception Impact Assessment. In addition, the Joint Research Centre collects information on food waste prevention initiatives and analyses the environmental and economic effects of various goal levels in order to support the work on setting EU food waste reduction objectives, particularly on the Impact Assessment of the legislative proposal.

The Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste (FLW) has been outlining the steps necessary to prevent food waste, exchanging best practices, and monitoring ongoing progress. The FLW represents International organizations, specialists from the EU, key stakeholders, and institutions from the EU. The Platform has allowed for the exchange of information and experience, which has benefited Member States and frequently motivated additional action on a national level. 

Member States have measures in place nationally as well. France passed a law in 2016 requiring supermarket chains to donate unsold food to charities or face a €3,750 fine. Italy has adopted legislation that defines food chain surpluses and in return provides a hierarchy for the recovery of excess food, giving priority to human consumption. Norwegian supermarkets have set in place different strategies to reduce food waste. These include, amongst others, the promotion of food with a short shelf life at a reduced price and the redistribution of surplus food to charity. 

Key Actors & Stakeholders:

  • The European Commission: the EU’s executive branch, the Commission is responsible for the introduction, implementation, and enforcement of legislation. The EU has the power to regulate trade in the single market and can support Member States in regulating industries. 
  • Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENVI): The department of the European Commission responsible for EU policy on the environment. It proposes and implements policies that ensure a high level of environmental protection and preserve the quality of life of EU citizens. The responsibilities include the policies regarding circular economy transition, nature and biodiversity, waste and recycling, soil and land.
  • Consumers: Households, manufacturers, primary producers, and other consumers on the food supply chain that cause food waste by acquiring too much food, producing it inefficiently, or because of inefficient policies.
  • The European Food Banks Federation: Food distributing organization promoting policies to facilitate food donation while preventing food waste and reducing food insecurity and social exclusion, working with European institutions and international organizations, European stakeholders, and EU-level NGOs.
  • Society and industry: Applications and businesses have been created with the goal of reducing food waste, for example  Too Good To Go

What now? 

As food waste is a major problem all over the world, the EU has recognized the need to reform the system. Although theoretical efforts and approaches were undertaken, it appears that improved transparency and cooperation between food markets and charitable organizations are still required to effectively implement such concepts. Thus the issue potentially could have been a solution to the unaffordability of nutritious food in the EU.


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