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28 March 2024

Food Loss and Waste: The Global Crisis and the Road Ahead.

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The world faces a crisis that impacts our environment, economy, and societal well-being: food loss and waste (FLW). An estimated 17% of all food intended for consumers was discarded in 2019, with significant repercussions for both people and the planet​​. As global hunger rises, with as many as 828 million affected in 2021—an increase from previous years—the urgency to address FLW intensifies, revealing a glaring paradox in our global food system​​.

The enormity of this challenge is underscored by its environmental impact. Food loss and waste account for approximately 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change and straining natural resources​​. This not only exacerbates global warming but also puts additional pressure on our already dwindling land and water resources.

The Root of the Problem

Food loss occurs throughout the supply chain, from farms to consumers' tables. While the bulk of waste is seen at the consumer level, the issue begins much earlier. About 14% of food globally is lost between harvest and retail, with another significant portion—17%—being wasted by consumers and food services​​. This challenge is magnified by inefficient agricultural practices, poor storage and transportation infrastructure, and a lack of awareness among consumers about sustainable food consumption.

A Triple Win Opportunity

Addressing FLW presents a "triple win" scenario: it bolsters food security, mitigates climate change, and enhances the sustainability of our agri-food systems​​. Reducing FLW is essential for transforming food systems to be more efficient and less wasteful, which would not only conserve resources but also make healthy diets more accessible to all, addressing nutritional deficiencies and improving public health outcomes​​.

Strategies for Combatting FLW

Effective strategies to combat FLW encompass a range of approaches from technological innovation, such as improving food packaging to extend shelf life, to fostering closer connections between consumers and producers​​. At the urban level, where a substantial portion of food consumption occurs, city governments can promote circular food systems through awareness campaigns, support for urban agriculture, and the provision of free food waste recycling services​​.

Moreover, consumers play a pivotal role in this battle. By making conscious choices, such as purchasing locally grown produce and managing food portions efficiently, individuals can significantly reduce waste. Collective action, encompassing governments, private entities, and individuals, is crucial for making strides towards the Sustainable Development Goal of halving per capita global food waste by 2030​​.

Looking Ahead

The fight against FLW is gaining momentum globally, with initiatives like the Courtauld Commitment achieving a 27% reduction in food waste since 2007 in the UK. Similar efforts are underway in other countries, demonstrating that significant progress is possible through collaboration and innovative solutions​​.

As we look towards future international agreements and conferences, such as the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), there lies an unparalleled opportunity to redefine our food systems. By incorporating sustainable practices and reducing waste, we can ensure a healthier planet and a secure food future for all​​.

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