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Valuing Our Food: Minimizing Waste and Optimizing Resources - The Scope of the Global Food Waste Problem

This presentation addresses the scope and significance of the problem of global food waste - noting that a serious disconnect exists which allows nearly one billion people to go hungry while the world wastes one to two billion tons of food annually. Our values regarding food are well out of balance, and a global food system which creates such vast amounts of waste is in many ways dysfunctional. Industrialized nations display a “culture of abundance” which leads to massive amounts of food waste while the social, economic, and environmental costs of that waste get little mainstream attention. The current state of waste, pollution, and hunger is unsustainable. This presentation notes the importance of valuing our food and optimizing resource usage to prepare the world to handle nine billion people by 2050. While the nine billion by 2050 problem is a daunting challenge, it should also be viewed as a critical opportunity to unite the world with shared purpose to eradicate hunger, minimize environmental impact, and enhance global security through a collaborative global network driven by expertise and urgency. To facilitate this transition, the overall opportunity can be viewed – and addressed – as a series of linked opportunities. This is a journey the world must embrace – we have little choice but to rapidly adopt sustainability principles across the globe which involve minimizing food waste and optimizing resource use if we are to successfully support nine billion people by 2050.
This material was part of a presentation to the IRAS Conference (Institute of Religion in an Age of Science) at Silver Bay, NY on July 31, 2013.

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Valuing Our Food: Minimizing Waste and Optimizing Resources - The Scope of the Global Food Waste Problem

  1. 1. Valuing our Food: Minimizing Waste and Optimizing Resources The Scope of the Global Food Waste Problem Steven M. Finn ResponsEcology, Inc. University of Pennsylvania
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  3. 3. Key Takeaways • Worldwide hunger and massive global food waste: A serious disconnect exists… • Our values are out of balance • We have lost touch with the value of our food – to the detriment of people and planet • The current state of waste, pollution, and hunger is unsustainable • 9Bx2050 provides a critical opportunity • A collaborative, effective, global network focusing on shared values and urgency is needed
  4. 4. Global Food Waste: Scope
  5. 5. Food Waste in the US • 1977: a study estimated that 20% of the food produced in the US for human consumption was lost annually – at that time 137 million tons with a value of $31 billion Source: USDA Report to Congress, 1977 • Two decades later, another study estimated US food losses at 96 billion pounds annually (or 27% of food available for human consumption) Source: Kantor et al., 1997
  6. 6. Food Waste in the US • A recent NRDC study noted that 40% of the food in the US is not eaten • This translates to 20 lbs. of food per person per month and a value of $165 billion Source: Gunders, 2012 • Conclusion: Regarding food waste in the US, we have regressed in 35 years
  7. 7. Food Waste in the UK • High rates of food waste in the UK as well WRAP noted that: • UK households waste 6.7 million tons of food per year (about 33% of purchases) • With proper management, more than 60% of that food could have been eaten • Nearly 25% of all avoidable food waste was discarded in a whole/unopened state Source: WRAP, 2008
  8. 8. Global Losses • A study by SIWI noted that food losses and wastage could be as high as 50% from field to fork Source: Lundqvist,2008
  9. 9. Global Losses • About 1/3 of all edible parts of food produced globally for human consumption go to waste annually • That’s 1.3 billion tons annually Source: Gustavvson et al., 2011
  10. 10. One Trillion Reasons • In US dollars, FAO estimates food losses and food waste total about $680 billion in industrialized countries, and $310 billion in developing countries Source: FAO Save Food, 2013 • That’s nearly one trillion US dollars… $ 1,000,000,000,000
  11. 11. Global Food Waste by Product Source: FAO: Food Wastage Footprints, 2012
  12. 12. Global Losses • Global food losses of this magnitude are unconscionable • “The potential to provide 60-100% more food by simply eliminating losses, while simultaneously freeing up land, energy, and water resources for other uses, is an opportunity that should not be ignored.” Source: Fox, Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2013
  13. 13. Some Causes of Food Waste • • • • • • • • • • • • Extreme Weather Pests Regulations Overly selective quality standards Damage from machinery Loss in Transport and storage Food prep and conversion Supply and demand variability Damaged packaging Over-purchasing Confusion over sell-by dates Plate waste Source: Kantor et al. 1997
  14. 14. Where Food Waste and Losses Occur • Developing countries (post harvest and processing stages) vs. Industrialized countries (greater impact of retail and consumer level losses) • Europe and North America, largest per capita food loss (avg. 280-300 kg/year) • About 36% of that loss is at the consumer level • Comparison: In developing countries, food losses at consumer level roughly 6% Source: Gustavvson et al., 2011
  15. 15. Developing countries • Lack of infrastructure is critical • Transportation, refrigeration problems • Much material is lost in transit to market, or rots in inadequate storage facilities • Little waste at market; food is simply too valuable!
  16. 16. Industrialized countries • Highly efficient transportation systems allow for rapid movement of food over great distances • Consumers expert convenience, fully stocked shelves at all times and “perfect” produce • System based on oversupply and uniformity • Vast amounts of waste at market • “Imperfect” produce culled out at farm
  17. 17. Excess Fruit In, Excess Fruit Out • Excess supply and quest for perfection = waste
  18. 18. Chicken In, Chicken Out
  19. 19. Poor Infrastructure, and Apathy • Food waste in developing nations results from a lack of infrastructure for storage and transportation • Food waste in industrialized nations stems largely from a culture of abundance, and apathy
  20. 20. Abundance = Myth, Illusion “Industrialized nations need to learn what it means to live in scarcity – because the appearance of infinite abundance is an illusion.” Tristram Stuart, Waste, 2009
  21. 21. Valuing Food and Resources • How much do we value our food? • And the resources to produce it? • How often do we consider the weaknesses of the food system, and the waste that results?
  22. 22. A Move to Mainstream • Food Waste is not yet a mainstream issue in industrialized nations • The US spends $1 billion annually to dispose of food waste Source: 2013 • It must become part of national, and global, agendas
  23. 23. Global Food Waste: Significance • Food Waste has direct and significant bearing on the two most pressing issues of our time – poverty/hunger and the environment
  24. 24. Significance: Global Hunger • 870 million people (12.5% of the global population) were undernourished from 2010 to 2012 Source: FAO, WFP, and IFAD 2012 • About 98% of these individuals lived in developing countries Source: FAO, WFP, and IFAD 2012 • 2 billion individuals are now facing one or more micronutrient deficiencies Source: FAO 2013
  25. 25. Significance: US Hunger The US is the most prosperous nation, yet: • Over 50 million Americans (about 1 in 6) lived in food insecure households in 2011 • About 17 million of them were children • About 5 million were seniors • Source:, 2013 • Also, at 23.1%, the US recently ranked 34 of 35 among industrialized countries in terms of the relative percentage of children living in poverty Source: UNICEF 2012
  26. 26. Significance: Lost Calories • Wasted food prevents needed calories from reaching the mouths of the needy • If we could save ¼ of the food currently lost or wasted globally, it would be enough to feed the 870 million hungry across the globe today Source: FAO Save Food 2013
  27. 27. Significance: Wasted Nutrients • All too often, high quality calories (fruits, vegetables, and meat proteins go to the waste stream rather than to individuals
  28. 28. Significance: Obesity • More than 1/3 of Americans are obese, including 17% of children ages 2-19 Source: 2013 • In the US, obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the last 30 years Source: 2013 • High quality calories currently being wasted could offset the challenges of food deserts
  29. 29. Environmental Impact • Wasted Food = Wasted Water • “Globally, the loss of water through food wastage would easily meet the household water needs of the 9 billion people expected in 2050” Source: FAO: Food Wastage Footprints, 2012
  30. 30. Environmental Impact: Air • Wasted Food = Air Pollution • Food waste is a major component of landfills; decomposing food pollutes the air and contributes to global warming through methane emissions • Methane gas has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide Source:, 2013
  31. 31. Environmental Impact: Energy • Wasted Food = Wasted Energy • US food wastage represents 300 million barrels of oil per year • That’s 4% of our nation’s oil use Source: FAO: Food Wastage Footprints, 2012 • And we use even more energy when we haul it away to landfills
  32. 32. Environmental Impact: Resources • Wasted Food = Wasted Resources • Waste of all of the Agricultural inputs that went into producing the wasted food – including fertilizer and pesticides – which also contribute to water pollution via runoff
  33. 33. Environmental Impact: Soils • Wasted Food = Depleted soils • The production of meat and dairy products wasted annually in the US and UK require 8.3 million hectares (about 2/3 the size of NY) Source: FAO: Food Wastage Footprints, 2012. • The press for land disrupts climate and hydrological cycles, and threatens to reduce the productivity of land by 25% this century Source: Stuart, 2009.
  34. 34. Environmental Impact: Land • Wasted Food = Increased Landfills • Food Waste that is not going to compost uses up limited space, increases landfill requirements, and creates additional environmental problems
  35. 35. A Dysfunctional Circle Current Food System: Roughly half of food lost along the way
  36. 36. The Impact of Dysfunction • We’re producing more than we need in developed countries • At every stage we are devoting finite resources to produce food that we eventually discard • In the final stages we inflict even more harm on the environment by disposing of food that we did not use (methane emissions, groundwater) • We fail to divert over a billion tons of excess food to eliminate hunger annually
  37. 37. The Result: Wasted Nutrition & Resources
  38. 38. Typical Findings in Retail Sector • Bad enough • Far Worse
  39. 39. A Problem of Global Security • How secure is a world where billions are hungry, and live in communities with others who have more than they need? • Where hunger and obesity coexist? (Dr. Mehmood Khan, PepsiCo) • And it’s not just a problem for the developing world
  40. 40. And a Moral Problem • There is a moral issue here as well • All individuals have a basic right to food and adequate nutrition • Yet we discard immense quantities of food, enough to totally eliminate hunger Source:, 2013) • On moral grounds alone, reducing food waste should be a global priority
  41. 41. Sum: The Big Disconnect We waste roughly 30-50% of food produced, yet: • Roughly 1 in 8 across the globe are hungry • We need to feed another 2 billion by 2050 • Resources are limited/environment is challenged • We need to find sustainable ways to close the calorie gap anticipated by 2050
  42. 42. The Need to Reframe • Reframe: 9BX2050 = Opportunity The 9 billion by 2050 problem needs: • An effective global network • A focus on opportunity (multiple) • A sustainability focus • Urgency
  43. 43. The Need to be Mainstream • The lack of mainstream attention given to food waste – and the lack of a sustained and unified global effort to reduce it to date – suggests a lack of understanding of the potential social, economic, and environmental benefits of such reduction
  44. 44. The Need for Awareness & Action • Increased awareness of the scale of the global food waste problem is needed among consumers, business, and government leaders • Tangible action is needed by them to reduce food waste as part of a broad, durable, collaborative global resource optimization strategy to prepare the world for 9 billion people by 2050
  45. 45. Choices Regarding Excess Food • EPA Hierarchy view: Source: • How do we make this second nature for all? • How do we go even further? • It’s about valuing our resources, especially our food • Requires a long term versus short term view
  46. 46. Mindset Change We need global mindset change for sustainable behavior: • Social impact • Environmental impact • Resource Efficiency (i.e. people, planet, profit)
  47. 47. Need to Overcome Barriers to Change • • • • • • Lack of awareness, hence lack of concern “A problem for the next generation” Short term versus long term focus Perceived difficulty in donation programs Fear of liability in donating excess food Discarding food in trash is too easy and inexpensive • Unwillingness to move away from current economic model which doesn’t factor in costs of environmental externalities
  48. 48. Need for Urgent Change • Food waste must get on national agendas, and it must become a global priority • It needs a global network approach (Rischard) coupled with a focus on opportunity • It needs new collaborative partnerships and urgency
  49. 49. Rischard: Urgent Global Problems Key: Poverty & Environment First 8 of 20 Global Problems: • Global warming • Biodiversity and Ecosystem loss • Fisheries depletion • Deforestation • Water deficits • Maritime safety and pollution • Renewing the attack on poverty • Conflict prevention and preventing terrorism • Note the link to the food system for all of these • Interdependence • Urgency • New solutions needed quickly Source: Rischard, 2003
  50. 50. Time for Networked Change Rischard: • Need for a “networked governance” approach • Knowledge-based teams forming transparent collaborative, global networks • Appeal to universal values • Spirit of global citizenship • Establish global norms regarding minimizing food waste, and a system to monitor Source: Rischard, 2003
  51. 51. Food Waste Crisis = Opportunity • Yunus: “A great crisis offers great opportunity” (from The End of Poverty) • The problem of global food waste is intertwined with the dual problems of hunger and the environment • It provides a colossal opportunity for global collaboration on elimination of hunger and optimization of resources
  52. 52. A Focus on Opportunities • The overriding opportunity created by the problem of global food waste in conjunction with 9Bx2050 can be viewed in several distinct pieces • Ten such opportunities include…
  53. 53. Opportunity #1 Expand national/global awareness and education on food waste • Overcome suppressed discomfort • Change the culture of abundance • Educate on the value of food • Educate consumers to drive change • New compact between consumers & retailers • Leverage FAO work
  54. 54. Opportunity #2 Make inroads toward eliminating hunger • Hunger and food waste must be connected • Requires short term and long term action • Partnerships to efficiently capture and redistribute excess food in the short term • Long term: global commitment to eliminate poverty, and hunger • 9Bx2050 provides the needed urgency for global collaboration
  55. 55. Opportunity #3 Make significant contributions to the environment • Rising population = more strain on resources • Food waste violates The Natural Step’s sustainability conditions • Lack of access to adequate food and water promotes an insecure world • Reducing food waste helps optimize resources and minimize pollution
  56. 56. Opportunity #4 Make inroads on obesity and health • The medical costs of obesity were estimated at $147 billion in 2008 Source: 2013 • Capturing and redirecting excess food can provide high quality calories to the food insecure, offset problems of food deserts, reduce long term health care costs
  57. 57. Opportunity #5 Build “community” on a much greater level • Bring nations together with shared purpose in a global effort to solve the critical challenges of hunger and the environment • Opportunity to create unprecedented global collaboration – the fate of the planet depends on it
  58. 58. Opportunity #6 Develop innovative partnerships on food waste and share success • Create partnerships to match the excess food with those who desperately need it • Educate stakeholders on benefits of partnering • Capture high quality food, including imperfect produce; convert excess food into healthy meals that can be stored/frozen • Create national and global awareness campaigns on food waste reduction
  59. 59. Opportunity #7 Harness the power of business • Business has incentive to lead sustainability initiatives; innovating for sustainability is crucial for survival • Solving the global food waste problem and the 9Bx2050 problem provides tremendous opportunities for business
  60. 60. Opportunity #8 See the benefits of, and move toward, a new economic system • Create recognition of environmental costs • Move away from take-make-waste model to a more regenerative economic model which mimics nature (outputs from one phase become inputs for another) Source: Senge et al., 2001 • Move toward Capitalism 3.0 (eco-system awareness) Source: Scharmer, 2009.
  61. 61. Opportunity #9 Experiment with scaling up; coordinating large national/global projects • Draw on lessons from the Olympic Games; global investment, collaboration, urgency • Create new compact between consumers and retailers • Create New Deal-type programs to capture and redistribute excess food efficiently • Legislation to spur food recovery, decrease food waste
  62. 62. Opportunity #10 Change the world for the better • Minimizing global food waste has significant positive implications for ending hunger, improving the environment, and enabling food security for all • Opportunity to unleash global creative capacity on a major problem that impacts all nations • “Crowdsourcing with uber-purpose”
  63. 63. Conclusions • The global food waste problem is enormous, and intertwined with the problems of hunger and the environment
  64. 64. Conclusions • Our values are far out of balance • We have lost touch with the value of our food – to the detriment of people and planet
  65. 65. Conclusions • The current state of waste, pollution, and hunger is unsustainable • In 2050, the world’s scarce resources will be impacted by another two billion people, many of whom will have increased purchasing power putting a further strain on resources • We cannot afford to waste 30-50% of our food, nor can we afford the environmental impact of that waste
  66. 66. Conclusions • Urgent change is needed to reduce food waste around the globe • A new, durable, collaborative global network with an opportunity focus is needed • Acting with urgency • Harnessing expertise, driven by shared values • Uniting consumers, business, governments, and NGOS to minimize food waste and optimize resources to prepare the world for 9 billion by 2050
  67. 67. Conclusions • The effort to reduce global food waste is a key component of the larger sustainability effort to provide food to millions, improve the environment, and create a more secure world • It is an essential journey in which we all need to participate • Need to view as an opportunity that cannot be missed
  68. 68. References • • • • • • • • • • Bloom. American Wasteland. 2010. FAO. Sustainability Pathways. Food Wastage Footprints. 2012. FAO. Save Food. Global Initiative on Food Losses and Waste Reduction. 2013. FAO. The State of Food and Agriculture. 2013. FAO, WFP, and IFAD. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012. Fox. Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not. 2013. Gunders, How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork. 2012. Gustavvson et al. Global Food Losses and Food Waste – Extent, Causes, and Prevention. 2011. Kantor, et al. Estimating and Addressing America’s Food Losses. 1997. Khan. What is Food Security?
  69. 69. References • • • • • • • • • Lundqvist et al. Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain. 2008. Rischard. New Global Agenda. 2003. Scharmer. The Blind Spot of Economic Thought: Seven Acupuncture Points for Shifting to Capitalism 3.0. 2009. Senge, et al. Innovating Our Way to the Next Industrial Revolution. 2001. Stuart. Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal. 2009. USDA. Food Waste: An Opportunity To Improve Resource Use. 1977. UNICEF. Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s richest countries. 2012. WRAP. The Food We Waste. 2008. 2013.
  70. 70. References • • • • • • 2013. 2013. 2013. 2013. Yunus. The End of Poverty. 2010.