Food Systems Change

Reducing Food Loss and Waste

Fifteen years ago, The Global FoodBanking Network was created to ensure that people around the world have access to food. The mission was simple: launch, strengthen, and sustain a global network of local food banks to support communities when they need it most. This mission still guides us today.

Innovate to Alleviate celebrates our 15th anniversary by highlighting 15 unique innovations—game-changing approaches and adaptations from GFN and member food banks that make hunger alleviation efforts more efficient, effective, and inclusive. Kicking off on International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste and concluding on World Food Day, this campaign demonstrates how food banks are an important component to solving hunger that are rooted in the communities they serve and essential to resilient food systems.

The belief that hunger alleviation is a food bank’s primary job is not wrong, but it’s incomplete.

Food banks are also at the forefront of fostering healthier communities and a healthier planet through the reduction of food loss and waste. By recovering edible food, redistributing it to communities in need, and preventing it from sitting in landfills and emitting greenhouse gases, food banks play an important and innovative role in ensuring that edible food ends up where it’s intended: in the hands of our neighbors.

What is food loss and waste? Why is it a problem?

The combination of food losswhen food is lost after harvest but before retail—and food wastewhen food is thrown out at the grocery and consumer level—is a serious problem, especially when 768 million people around the world currently experience hunger.

Of all the food produced in the world, nearly one-third is lost or wasted. About 14 percent of all food produced is lost between harvest and retail due to surplus, cosmetic blemishes, and inadequate storage or transportation, and another 17 percent of total food production is wasted in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes.

This paradox of millions of tons of food decomposing while millions of people go hungry causes significant damage to our communities, our economies, and our planet.

Food loss and waste erodes food security, decreases food availability, and contributes to higher food prices. It also causes economic losses at every step of the supply chain as the resources used to produce food—water, land, energy, and capital—are squandered when that food is lost or wasted. Lastly, food loss and waste pose a threat to our planet. As lost and wasted food decomposes in landfills, it contributes 8 to 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases—ultimately intensifying climate change and causing further fractures in our food system.

How food banks help reduce food loss and waste

The problem of food loss and waste is enormous, but food banks have proven to be a sustainable, green solution to this problem by partnering with farmers, distributors, grocers, and food services to redirect wholesome, surplus food to people experiencing hunger. The impact of this food recovery work, when quantified, is staggering. In 2019, for example, members of the world’s three largest food bank organizations recovered 3.75 million metric tons of food, enough to fill nearly 1,292 Olympic swimming pools. And because that food was recovered, over 12 billion kilograms of greenhouse gases were prevented from entering the atmosphere via food decomposition.

This example demonstrates food banks’ ability to simultaneously reduce food loss and waste, support local supply chains, and feed food insecure communities, creating an innovative culture that keeps food out of landfills and within local communities. Reducing food loss and waste is not new, but strategies for doing so efficiently and economically have been enabled by food banks’ leadership all over the world.

Through collaborations at every stage of the food supply chain—from farmers, distributors and wholesalers, processors and manufacturers, and grocery retailers and food service—food banks ensure that healthy food is procured quickly, safely, and at little-to-no cost, a ripple effect that benefits everyone involved.

Furthermore, by prioritizing this innovation in tandem with hunger alleviation, food banks help advance progress on important global goals, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3, which aims to halve per capita global food waste and reduce food losses by 2030.

Food banks are a vital part of our food system, not only because they serve millions of people facing hunger, but because they are uniquely situated to tackle the problem of food loss and waste through innovative strategies that benefit everyone. Through expertise, resources, and connections, The Global FoodBanking Network supports community leaders who are using this green, innovative model to address food security, mitigate the effects of climate change, and improve economies.

Learn more about other unique innovations that support hunger alleviation efforts in communities around the world.

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