Global Food Waste Crisis: Strategies and Initiatives in the US and UK

Published Sep 8, 2023
Food waste is a pressing global issue, impacting the entire food supply chain. Approximately 30% of the world's food is wasted annually, contributing to environmental problems. The United States and the United Kingdom are among the top food wasters globally, discarding significant amounts of food each year. To combat this, the UK has introduced food waste legislation and companies in both countries are innovating in waste reduction. Reducing food waste is essential for sustainability and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts on multiple fronts are underway to tackle this pervasive challenge.

From production to disposal, food waste is a pervasive issue in the global agricultural landscape permeating the entire supply chain. An astounding 30% of the global food supply is wasted annually, estimated at USD 230 billion by the Boston Consulting Group, resulting in significant environmental repercussions. Food waste substantially contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, squandering precious natural resources. A strategic reduction in food waste holds the potential to act as a formidable ally in the battle against global emissions while simultaneously fortifying food security and nurturing robust food systems. Beyond the familiar image of discarded restaurant leftovers or post-meal kitchen waste, food waste covers a broad spectrum of sources, encompassing losses and disposals at every juncture within the intricate web of the food system.

The United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) are responsible for a significant amount of food waste. The US, in particular, leads the world in discarding an astounding quantity of food, with nearly 54 million metric tons (mmt), equivalent to 120 billion pounds, going to waste annually. This staggering figure represents approximately 40% of the US food supply or 325 pounds of waste per person. This squandered food in America holds an approximate value of nearly USD 218 billion, equivalent to a staggering 130 billion meals.

The UK is just a little behind in this disheartening scenario, annually wasting around 9.52 mmt of food. An estimated 70% of this waste arises from households, totaling 6.7 mmt, while 16% originates from manufacturers, 12% from hospitality and food services, and 2% from the retail industry. This collective wastage amounts to an estimated GBP 14 billion (USD 17.7 billion) in losses for UK households annually, rendering it the leading food waster in Europe. Alarmingly, this substantial food waste in the UK contributes to approximately 25 mmt of greenhouse gas emissions annually, significantly contributing to climate change.

Source: Tridge, WRAP

Both nations have undertaken proactive measures to combat the pressing issue of food waste. In 2023, the UK took a significant step by enacting food waste legislation. This landmark legislation mandates that companies operating in England must overhaul their food waste management and disposal practices to align with compliance requirements. This legislative action, stemming from the Environmental Act of 2021, strongly resonates with the UK government's ambitious goal of eliminating food waste destined for landfills by 2030, a central tenet of the Waste and Resources Strategy for England (WRAP). Consequently, all organizations involved in food production in England must adapt their current practices to meet these new legislative standards, with a deadline for full compliance by the end of 2023.

Across the US, numerous states are proactively addressing the issue of food waste and seeking to enhance food recovery efforts. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont have implemented legislation to limit the volume of food waste directed to landfills. Furthermore, there is pending legislation in California, Colorado, and Massachusetts to establish initiatives supporting private-sector composting and organic collection programs through funding. Additionally, states such as Tennessee and Washington, along with cities like Los Angeles and Madison, Wisconsin, have established food waste task forces. These task forces are actively engaged in multifaceted efforts to reduce food waste, encompassing initiatives such as composting education, infrastructure development, and the systematic elimination of food waste from American landfills. These comprehensive endeavors underscore a growing national commitment to addressing the food waste challenge across various levels of government and society.

Converting surplus food into upcycled products represents a viable strategy for commercial enterprises to combat food waste while actively participating in the circular economy. Companies adopting the approach include Toast Ale, a UK-based brewery that transforms surplus bread into beer, and the US-based wholesale ingredient supplier Regrained, which converts discarded grain by-products from brewing into flour rich in protein, fiber, and micronutrients. Likewise, Rubies in the Rubble, based in London, takes waste fruit and misshapen vegetables and turns them into condiments. Seven Bro7hers, a British brewery, creatively uses discarded Coco Pops to craft a chocolate stout.

Source: Seven Bro7hers

According to the WRAP, utilizing the aforementioned strategies and government regulations, the UK aims to achieve a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030, with an interim goal of a 20% reduction by 2025.

While in the US, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have also unveiled the US 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction goal, marking the nation's inaugural domestic objective to halve food loss and waste by 2030.

In conclusion, food waste poses a pervasive challenge within the food and beverages landscape, spanning from production to disposal. The US and the UK play substantial roles in global food waste, discarding vast quantities of food annually and contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. These nations have taken active measures to combat this issue, with the UK enacting food waste legislation and companies in both countries innovatively addressing the problem within their supply chains. These efforts underscore the growing commitment to sustainable practices, with the potential to substantially alleviate the global food waste crisis.

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