Food loss and waste (FLW) is a global economic, environmental, and ethical problem which has been specifically targeted within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 12.3 aims to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030”.

Most efforts to decrease FLW focus on the individual consumer or householder. However, FLW is generated at all points throughout the food system, including production, processing, distribution and consumption. FLW is exacerbated by long and complex supply chains with many different stakeholders throughout the food system. For this reason, efforts to decrease FLW must engage with all stakeholders and all of their impacts, not just focusing on individual stakeholders or processes.

In this think-piece, the authors explored a method called True Cost Accounting (TCA). This is a way to measure and quantify the true social, economic, and environmental impacts of different food production systems. They assessed how TCA could help to overcome siloed thinking and support collaborative efforts to reduce FLW throughout the whole food system.

The authors conducted a literature review and followed up with a series of focus groups. These led them to form 6 policy recommendations that could support stakeholder collaboration across the food system to reduce FLW.

Policy recommendations:

  • Ensure supplier-retailer contracts address FLW at all points of the supply chain and mandate stakeholders to measure, state and reduce FLW in their contracts.
  • Hospitality, supermarkets and local authorities should be required to disclose all FLW and set mandatory annual targets to decrease FLW.
  • Review current rules and regulations regarding use and processing of FLW, and consider options for repurposing FLW, for example, as animal feed.
  • Address supply chain inefficiency: supporting public procurement directly from suppliers could decrease FLW, while simultaneously strengthening local economies.
  • Incentivize suppliers, retailers, and hospitality to address social, economic and environmental food system externalities, potentially offering incentives and rewards to do so via lower business rates.
  • Clear definitions of terminology including: food loss, food waste, surplus, inedible parts and destinations of food loss and waste. Development of government recognized language for system-wide standardization of data recording.

Watch a video summary of the report:

This work was funded by the Global Food Security (GFS) programme as part of the GFS Policy Lab, in which Early Career Researchers compete to write a policy-facing report for the programme.