Europe targets 50% reduction in edible food waste

9 November 2011

Tackling food waste is a ‘priority’ for the European Commission and its recently-published Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe targets a 50% reduction in edible food waste by 2020.

That was the message from European environment commissioner Janez Potočnik, who was speaking yesterday (November 8) at the ‘Combating food waste in the EU’ conference in Brussels.

European environment commissionerJanez Potočnik (picture: EC Library)
European environment commissionerJanez Potočnik (picture: EC Library)

Mr Potočnik said that the food and drink sector was behind 17% of direct greenhouse gas emissions and 28% of material resource use in the EU. And, he said that 90 million tonnes of food was wasted every year which “could have been suitable for human consumption.”

Pointing to the Commission’s Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, which was published on September 20 (see letsrecycle.com story) Mr Potočnik said that the Commission wanted the disposal of edible food waste to be halved in the EU by 2020.

But, he said that this would require effort from both consumers and businesses.
For businesses, he said the challenges were:

  • The manufacturing sector will have to increase use of its waste as by-products.
  • The retail sector will need to improve its stock management and selling methods to prevent products reaching their end-of-life before being sold.
  • The restaurant and catering sectors will need to manage their systems and services so as to reduce drastically their food waste losses.
  • And, consumers will have to be encouraged to find new ways of using edible food which they would otherwise throw away.

For consumers, meanwhile, he said the reasons why people waste edible food are diverse and include cultural attitudes, lack of knowledge of good conservation and storage practices, outsize portions, and lack of awareness about how to re-use leftovers. He pointed out that of end-of-life dates alone appears to be responsible for about 20 % of the edible food wasted.

He said: “This highlights the importance of giving the right information to consumers. The European Commission is reaching out to address the issue of food waste in the ‘Generation Awake’ Resource Efficiency Campaign which has just been launched. But all of you, retailers, manufacturers, suppliers of the food chain, have a role to play. Being the interface between suppliers and consumers, retailers are in a privileged position to bring information to consumers. Suppliers of the food chain must also help by providing written information on packaging and optimising pre-packed portions.”

Initiatives

To help address the issue of food waste, Mr Potočnik said the commission has already put legislation and initiatives in place including:

  • The Waste Framework Directive has established a waste management hierarchy which promotes waste prevention as the first objective, followed by re-use, recycling, and energy recovery, with disposal as the last resort.
  • Member States are obliged to implement this hierarchy in practice, including for food waste. And they will have to set out how they plan to address food wastage in their National Waste Prevention Programmes due by 2013.
  • To help them in this task, the Commission is preparing a guidance document on food waste prevention, on the basis of many existing best practice examples. This guidance will be published on its website shortly.
  • The European Retail Forum for Sustainability, which is co-chaired and supported by the European Commission, is currently preparing an "Issue Paper" on waste minimisation, a large part of which will be dedicated to food waste prevention.
  • Private initiatives such as food-banks where donations come from retailers, who remove edible products from the shelves before the deadline for consumption, from distribution platforms, from food processors who provide unsold food or food that has packaging or labelling defects, from agricultural cooperatives, and from consumers.

Concluding his speech, Mr Potočnik said it was morally “indefensible” that France's leftovers could feed the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Italy's could feed Ethiopia's undernourished population.

He said: “Whatever starting point you take the conclusions are the same. Food waste is bad. As I am sure you will discover in your discussions at this conference, tackling that waste is complicated, it will take time and it will involve many actors, but tackle it we must.”