Reducing Food Waste: Emissions, Environmental, and Food Waste Reporting Policies

Research from GFN and the Harvard Law School Food Law & Policy Clinic offers recommendations for reporting policies that can reduce food waste and promote food donation.

Food loss and waste (FLW) is one of the world’s greatest food system challenges. FLW occurs at every stage of the supply chain and generates significant social, environmental, and economic costs.

An estimated one-third of food produced globally is ultimately lost or wasted along the supply chain, amounting to approximately 1.3 billion tons of food each year. Much of this wasted food ends up in landfills where it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is up to 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide because of its intense short-term impacts on global warming. Although carbon dioxide is more abundant than methane in the atmosphere, a
single molecule of methane more effectively traps heat than a single molecule of carbon dioxide.

At the same time, the number of undernourished people in the world increased to 828 million in 2021—an increase of about 46 million since 2020 and 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 2.3 billion people (29.3 percent of the global population) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021—350 million more compared to before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic—with 924 million people (11.7 percent of the global population) facing food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years. Food donation offers a solution to these parallel issues. By redirecting safe, edible food that would otherwise be lost or wasted to those who are hungry, stakeholders can address the related issues of FLW and hunger while decreasing methane emissions’ contribution to the rise in global temperature.

Thoughtful public policies can help address the troubling mismatch between rates of food waste and rates of extreme hunger. In addition to the environmental benefits described above, reducing food loss and waste results in sizable economic benefits to society, as it minimizes the costs associated with producing and discarding food that is never consumed. Food donation also helps mitigate the costs of hunger and stimulates the economy: food recovery organizations provide jobs and catalyze community development, and recipients of donated food can spend limited financial resources on other basic goods and services.

Scaling food donation requires aligned incentives or requirements that motivate individuals and companies to donate rather than discard safe, surplus food. Reporting interventions that require the measurement of food loss and waste streams help entities identify ways to take advantage of the economic benefits of improved food loss and waste management. The remainder of this brief focuses on how reporting policies can promote food donation as an emissions reduction tool. The types of reporting discussed include environmental, social, and
governance (ESG) reporting; Scope 3 emissions reporting; and food waste reporting.

The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas is a first-of-its-kind initiative to promote better laws on food donation to help address food loss and food insecurity. This project maps the laws affecting food donation in countries across the globe to help practitioners understand national laws relating to food donation, compare laws across countries and regions, analyze legal questions and barriers to donation, and share best practices and recommendations for overcoming these barriers. The project is a collaboration between the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN).

Related blogs

Back to Resources