At a recent session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, food waste advocates identified solutions, including education, technology and investment, to reduce food loss and waste. The conversations were organized by Food Tank in partnership with the Food4Climate pavilion.
“While we are in this moment of trying to avoid a climate crisis that is upon us and thinking about how we build more equitable and inclusive food systems, we should also think about how we create opportunities for circular economies.” says Lisa Moon, President and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network.
More than a third of the food produced in the world remains unconsumedaccording to the WWF, and if food were a country, it would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Tackling food loss and waste is a “low hanging fruit,” says celebrity chef, restaurateur and TV personality Bobby Chinn.
Chinn thinks it is possible to solve the problem “in a more accelerated way” than most of the other crises on the table at COP27. But with waste occurring throughout the supply chain, from farms and markets to retail stores and kitchens, panelists highlighted the multiple interventions needed to address it.
Speakers argue that the public sector needs to step up its efforts.
“The majority of governments have no incentives and in many ways discourage food donations,” Moon says. Often, food companies fear liability if they donate food that makes someone sick, leading them to throw away excess inventory. Moon wants to see more governments put in place liability protections to encourage donations, keep food out of landfills and redirect it to those in need. Tax incentives can also help encourage change, she says.
Food waste is also part of governments’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the speakers say. These national action plans define strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis. but currently only 21 countries address food loss and waste in their NDCs, says Oliver Camp, senior associate for Nature’s Positive Actions for Healthy Diets at GAIN.
As the world seeks to push for changes in the NDCs, it is important not to overlook the role of local governments, said Dana Omran, Global Director of Strategy and Operations for the Resilient Cities Network. She argues that cities have long left decisions about food and agriculture to national governments. But they “are the biggest consumers of food. At the same time, cities have huge waste management problems… Cities cannot afford to do nothing around food.
The Resilient Cities Network’s new Urban Eats campaign strives to help urban areas ‘connect the dots’, between issues. They also share innovations and provide technical assistance to design new programs, including those that deal with organic waste.
But even where programs exist on the ground, many need resources and capital to increase their impact. Desmond Alugnoa, co-founder of Green Africa Youth Organization, explains that in Accra he has seen projects that “are at tipping points and could just be scaled up, but there are not enough resources”.
That’s why Sara Farley believes that philanthropic institutions must be prepared to accept risk and support solutions that have the potential to scale. “Philanthropy needs to test itself, recruit other funders, create unexpected alliances, and truly be leaders who can take on some of the risk to facilitate the path forward for others to step in,” she says.
In the private sector, Pete Pearson, head of the global food circularity initiative at WWF, sees food retailers taking action by setting food waste reduction targets. But it doesn’t matter if there isn’t a culture shift among employees at each store, he argues. “You can put all these goals you want, you can shine these fancy banners around the discount, but it always comes down to what’s happening at that local level, and that’s the hardest part.”
To see the desired change in food business operations, information is also essential.
Keith Agoada, CEO of Producers Trust, which brings together farmers and other actors in the supply chain, regularly hears partners say “we need data, we need source-accurate data, and with that we can do our job”.
“The flow of information is essential between farmers and companies,” acknowledges Pearson, head of the global initiative for food circularity at WWF. He also believes that information will “unlock the profitability” that will drive transformation.
The hospitality industry can also benefit from better data. “It’s really hard to measure food waste, and most kitchens just don’t know how much they’re wasting,” says David Jackson, director of marketing and public affairs at Winnow. The company, which uses technology to measure and reduce food waste in professional kitchens, finds that between 5 and 15% of food is wasted in these environments.
“Be very clear about setting a goal,” advises Richard Swannell, interim CEO of WRAP, and “start measuring within your own business.”
With food prices rising, now is the time to tackle food waste, as many chefs more concerned than ever about what ends up on the plates and what doesn’t. “As the cost of ingredients went up, the ingredients became more valuable, so you had to think more creatively about how you use the whole vegetable, how you use all the elements, the sub- products,” says Paul Newnham, Sustainable Development Goal Director. (SDG) 2 Advocacy Center.
It’s something chefs have always been trained to do, Newnham continues, but as food got cheaper, waste became more acceptable.
Particularly in northern countries, “there is a lack of respect for food, and this has been built into our society, especially since the late 1970s,” says Lasse Bruun, CEO of 50by40. “Food has become not just something you need, but something you can have in abundance.”
Now chefs are returning to the original mindset, says Newnham, again placing more value on their ingredients and embracing the idea that “every morsel of food is money”. .
Speakers also encourage everyone to frame food waste reduction efforts not just as an obligation, but as an opportunity. In the kitchen, “food waste is a lack of imagination,” says Newnham.
Chefs have the ability and expertise to turn what some might consider leftovers into a dish. “They’re the experts when it comes to making things taste good, so we need to look to them for knowledge and advice,” says Earlene Cruz, founder and director of Kitchen Connection.
Cruz, whose organization helps eaters contribute to a better food system, also advocates for better education to engage consumers and help them meet them where they are.
Raphael Podselver, Director of UN Affairs for ProVeg International agrees, stating that “education, personal experience with food is very, very important.”
With the many solutions available and the economic and environmental benefits to be gained, Megan Moriwaka, Global Director of Sustainability at Iberostar Group, says food loss and waste is a significant opportunity.
And, she adds, if the world can’t deal with it effectively, it doesn’t bode well for solving the more complex challenges that are driving the climate crisis. “Food waste is one of the few topics where you can get everyone to say there’s a win-win-win if we can solve this problem.”
Watch the full conversations by clicking HERE.
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