Reducing Food Waste: National Food Waste and Donation Strategies

Research from GFN and the Harvard Law School Food Law & Policy Clinic provides an overview of national strategies to reduce food loss and waste and increase food recovery, highlighting best practices around the world.

Food loss and waste (FLW) is a significant and complex food system challenge. 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. This amounts to approximately 1.3 billion tons of food each year that ends up in landfills, where it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as it rots.

As of 2022, approximately 783 million people face hunger globally, or about 1 in 10 people;4 more than 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2021.5 Thoughtful public policies and government interventions can help address these troubling trends and augment food system resilience, aiding in food recovery for social benefit and mitigating the environmental cost of food loss and subsequent excess production.

Food systems are multifaceted; in most countries, many different ministries or departments are involved in the regulation of food and agriculture. This means that efforts to address food loss and waste similarly span various government entities. As a result, despite stated goals to reduce food waste, many governments lack internal cohesion around the issue, resulting in lackluster, disjointed, or even contradictory policy landscapes.

Uniting the myriad government agencies and initiatives—along with stakeholders in the private sector and civil society—under a national strategy for food waste not only prioritizes FLW on the forefront of the national agenda, but also ensures that all actors are aligned and equipped to tackle the issue efficiently. Such a strategy also clarifies governance, delineating clear roles and responsibilities of different entities, which is critical for implementation, accountability, and collaboration across sectors, toward a clearly established national goal.

Beyond identifying that FLW is a problem that governments must tackle, it is critical that a strategy clearly prioritizes how it should be solved and sets concrete targets. In particular, global bodies such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as many national governments, acknowledge a hierarchy of the best uses of food, which focuses on reduction at the source, followed by ensuring food makes it to use by humans, then by animals. Because food donation is so highly prioritized in the hierarchy, but also can come with its own set of logistical and legal challenges and questions, special attention should be paid to address
these questions. A national strategy can be an effective means of aligning various food waste and donation related policies, such as those researched in the Atlas project like date labeling and tax incentives, that interact to form a legal landscape that can either help or hinder food recovery and food redistribution. For example, a national strategy can codify the waste management hierarchy,6 establishing a clear priority to prevent food waste and recover food that is safe for human consumption, followed by other uses of food such as organic waste recycling, composting, biofuels. A national strategy can also prioritize policy and public education interventions that advance the aims of food donation and allocate resources appropriately. Finally, codifying a national FLW reduction goal can ensure internal policy coherence and align with international commitments, such as those made during COP climate convenings. By incorporating food waste management into these broader climate strategies, governments can not only meaningfully reduce emissions through mitigating FLW, but also demonstrate their commitment to sustainable environmental practices and tackle crucial societal issues like eliminating hunger.

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).

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