Preventing Wasted Food Across the Food Supply Chain
There are specific drivers of food waste at every stage of the food supply chain—and while there is no silver bullet solution to address them all, there are actions that have significant environmental, financial, and social benefits.
Wasted food prevention addresses the root causes of food waste and includes actions that reduce surplus food generation by addressing inefficiencies across the food system. Prevention strategies range from creating secondary markets so that farmers can make sure their crops aren’t lost to ensuring that people and businesses can use all the food they purchase, and that food is properly managed across different stages of production, transportation, and distribution
While surplus food rescue and food scrap recycling are key strategies to keep food out of landfills and incinerators, the greatest environmental and social benefits associated with reducing food waste are in preventing food from being wasted in the first place. April 4-8, 2022, was Food Waste Prevention Week. Food Waste Prevention Week aims to support a healthier environment and help families save money by educating the public about reducing food waste at home, at work, and in their communities.
Food waste happens at every stage of our food system from farm to fork to landfill, also known as the food supply chain. The largest portion of U.S. food waste, about 37% of total generation, occurs in peoples’ homes. After households, consumer-facing restaurants and retail are the second largest source of wasted food, at 29% of the total. Farms make up 21% and manufacturing represents 13% (source: ReFED Inisghts Engine). Consumer education campaigns are an important part of preventing food waste because most food waste is generated at the consumption stage (in our homes, restaurants, etc.). There are also specific drivers of food waste at every stage of the food supply chain—and while there is no silver bullet solution to address them all, there are actions that can be taken at each stage that can have significant environmental, financial, and social benefits.
The following list is adapted from the second edition of NRDC's Wasted report, which is an excellent resource for understanding the many drivers of and solutions to food waste.
Food waste drivers and potential solutions based on sector, ordered from biggest to smallest generation:
Retail and Food Service (Including Restaurants) (29%)
The ReFED Insights Engine is another excellent resource that provides robust information on associated impacts and feasibility related to many of these solutions.
Some of these solutions can be carried out by individuals, while others need to be implemented by food businesses or are policies that need to be passed by local, state, or federal government. The good news is that any action can make a difference, and there continue to be more and more actions, programs, and policies that reduce food waste. At the state level, organic waste bans are becoming more common, with states like Maryland and Washington recently passing legislation and states like New York and California implementing restrictions on landfilling food waste. At the federal level, there is movement to standardize date labels, improve food donation, and provide funding for food waste reduction.
Here are a few of our other top priorities:
- More measurement and standardized reporting to help provide data to better target solutions at all stages of the food supply chain.
- Substantial and sustained funding from the public and private sector to support solutions across the entire food supply chain
- Innovative policies like adjusting grading standards and implementing unit-based waste management pricing that incentives reducing waste.
- Effective consumer education that is culturally appropriate, leads to behavioral changes, and shifts social norms.
It is fantastic to see businesses, governments, organizations leading by example and participating in efforts like Food Waste Prevention Week. We will continue to amplify those efforts and help implement and advocate for the array of solutions outlined in this blog and beyond. To truly prevent food waste, we, as a culture, need to value our food more and we all are a part of making that culture shift happen!