Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste: Why Food Waste is a Bigger Issue than You Think (and what you can do about it)

Photo: Dose Juice on Unsplash

It is estimated that over 1/3 of all food is lost or wasted globally.

Behind this huge number lies not only the direct impact of food that is being produced but not reaching a big part of the global population in desperate need of food – world hunger has started to increase since 2015, after many decades of decline – but it also implies an indirect impact on GHG emissions and wasted natural resources. It is estimated that wasted food accounts for about 6% of global GHG emissions.

September 29th is the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. To help shed light on the issue, we have talked to Steffen Schwörer, Partner and Senior Consultant at GlobalCAD and founder of Alles Gute catering, a sustainable catering service based in Barcelona. We discussed the impact of food waste on the environment and simple ways in which we can take action. Here’s our conversation with Steffen:

1. GlobalCAD: Steffen, why is it so important to raise awareness about the issue of food loss and food waste? Could you share a some data about the issue and explain how does it impact the environment?

Steffen Schwörer: Food loss and waste occurs along the entire value chain: from production to harvesting, processing, and transportation, and it happens both in the hospitality sector and in households.

The amount of food wastes differs for various food items. Fruits and vegetables are on top of the rank: over 45% of these items end up going to waste. But while the share of wasted meat is much lower (around 20%), for every kilogram of beef wasted, you also waste the resources that were used on its production, meaning 1.451 liters of freshwater, 326.21 m2 of used land, and 60 kg of greenhouse gases emitted, among others. So the impact goes way beyond the wasted food item itself; all the resources invested in the production and distribution of that item were also wasted – which has a huge impact on the environment.

In the EU, over 50% of food waste is generated at the household level (that’s 173 kg of food waste per person per year!). This is why raising awareness is so important, because everyone has a role to play and can make difference. The 2030 Agenda through SDG 12.3 sets the ambitious goal to reduce per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level by half.

2. GC: Besides being a consultant and partner at GlobalCAD, you also own a sustainable catering service in Barcelona, called Alles Gute. How did you come across the idea for the business and what are some best practices that you apply to prevent food loss and waste?

SS: At Alles Gute, we believe that the way we eat should make our life better, and not put it into jeopardy.

That’s why we have made it our cause to provide an alternative that is truly sustainable, putting into practice the approaches of planetary health and circular economy. This means that we use 100% plant-based ingredients from sustainable sources, provide healthy meals with reusable packaging, and that we design and prepare our dishes and menus in such a way to avoid any food waste. This includes for example making use of all edible parts of the product that we use, and small portion sizes so that people can happily repeat and share several dishes.

3. GC: What are some of the measures that we, as individuals, can do to prevent food loss and waste and have overall more sustainable eating habits?

SS: There are many things one can do starting today, for example: when shopping, buy fresh produce in small quantities multiple times per week, if you can (this also supports local shops), buy the ugly veggies (they are at least as delicious), and buy food that is near the best before date (this also saves you money). At home, organise your fridge in such a way to have products with the shortest shelf live more visible. When cooking, be creative and make use of all parts of the product (don’t waste any edible parts) and of scraps and leftovers. Also, check your portion sizes – meaning better serve less and repeat. Or even better, eat tapas style with several small dishes. When eating out, take your leftovers with you. Also, use apps like “Too Good To Go” to save food from going to waste.

But first of all, be conscious about the issue, observe what goes to waste in your day to day life. Once you are aware, solutions will almost come naturally.

4. GC: GlobalCAD recently launched its Commitments for Environmental Sustainability and food waste is amongst our goals for running a more sustainable, healthy business. What are some of the easy steps that businesses can apply to help prevent food waste and promote more sustainable eating habits in the workplace?

SS: I would recommend starting with getting a realistic picture of the issue in your specific case, in order to focus your actions where they have most effect. For example, is a lot of waste generated on an individual level by team members on a daily basis? And how much waste do you generate at your events?

Then you can be strategic about it, set your targets and define actions such as setting sustainability criteria for procurement of the food service that you contract for events and meetings, i.e. plant-based organically and locally produced food. This is not only a good way to reduce your ecological footprint, but also is a great way to make your commitment visible to your team and your community. At the individual level, you can create awareness among your team through internal events about some of the measures mentioned above to fight food waste and promote habit changes. This will not only have an impact on the workspace, but of course also at everyone’s home.

Photo: Ashley Winkler on Unsplash

5. GC: At the public policy level, could you share one or a couple of best practices that are being implemented in terms of preventing food loss and waste?

SS: Food waste is a complex problem that requires a set of strategies. What any public administration can do is to lead by example (i.e. avoid food waste through sustainable procurement), raise awareness about the issue among businesses and citizens and educate in schools, and to support local civil society and entrepreneurial projects that engage and innovate to fight food waste. The city of Barcelona for example is developing a strategy on food sustainability, while it has become the World Capital of Sustainable Food in 2021 and will host the 2021 Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.

While it is of course critical to avoid food waste at the source, it is equally important to take action at the time of consumption. Here, donations to Food Banks can simultaneously address challenges of food waste and hunger. At the public policy level, the EU Circular Economy Action Plan defines guidelines on food donations in the EU to remove barriers for food donations and facilitate a higher share of food being donated.

6. GC: Any resources you would like to share to help our audience learn more about the topic?

SS: Sure, here are some interesting sources of information and tools about the topic:

Thank you, Steffen!

For inspiration on how to start implementing more sustainable food management systems in your organisation, download GlobalCAD’s Commitments for Environmental Sustainability.

Geisel García Graña
Geisel García Graña
Geisel is Communication & Ecosystem Manager for GlobalCAD and a consultant in communication and sustainable cities. She has a PhD. in Communication Sciences by the Autonomous University of Barcelona. @geiselgg