Impact story

Challenge: less food in the bin

No-one wants to discard food. Still, it happens a lot. Wageningen researchers want to reduce food waste by half by the year 2030 together with consumers, government and businesses. What obstacles do they encounter?

Approximately one-quarter of the food in the Netherlands is wasted. Some 60 per cent of the wasted food is incinerated. A waste of the billions of euros in used resources, water and energy, says Sanne Stroosnijder of Wageningen University & Research Food & Biobased Research. The Together Against Food Waste Foundation (Samen tegen Voedselverspilling), which is an ecosystem of businesses, organisations, consumers and government, aims to be a global leader. This will allow us to make high-value use of millions of tonnes of extra food feedstock within the food chain.

One hundred parties

As an independent knowledge partner, WUR boosts over one hundred parties from small start-ups to large corporates. On a national scale and per sector, WUR monitors food waste and maps opportunities for improvement, for example, in the catering sector. Stroosnijder: ‘In the food waste challenge, it became clear that restaurants can reduce food waste by one fifth with relatively simple interventions.’ A well-known chain of hotels even achieved a seventy per cent reduction. This pleases WUR. ‘Ultimately, it is the businesses, governments and consumers that make the difference.’

The three greatest obstacles, according to Sanne Stoosnijder:

1. Consumers are a not to be underestimated factor in food wastage. But, achieving a sustainable change in behaviour is a challenge. ‘Often, people don’t realise how much they discard.’ The Waste-free Week in September, organised by the foundation in collaboration with the Nutrition Centre (Voedingscentrum) is to change this through an added focus on the shelf life of products (and the difference between “use by” and “best before”)

2. In businesses, food waste is often hidden in the business operation: procurement, storage, waste processing. A benchmark reveals that one supermarket wastes a lot of bread, while another needs to address the fresh produce section. ‘We quantify wastage in kilos and euros, but also in terms of nutrient loss and CO2-emissions.’

3. The most persistent are systemic changes, as these call for collaboration through the chain. For example, between the catering sector and suppliers. Are businesses willing to exchange data and experiences and reach new agreements? ‘Sometimes, a small adjustment in planning can have a huge effect.’

Who

WUR and a consortium of a hundred large and small businesses, governments, knowledge institutes and consumers.

Duration

The Foundation against Food Waste was established in December 2018 with 25 parties. That number has since quadrupled.

Budget

900.000 euros per year for monitoring, knowledge vouchers, rules and management. Follow-up: after 2021 to continue with innovations and solutions, particularly for the abovementioned issues.

Problem

The Dutch discard a combined total of millions of kilos of food per year. Food waste is everywhere: after the harvest, during storage and transportation, in supermarkets and catering, and in the homes of consumers. Not only a waste of good food but also of resources, water and energy needed for production and transportation. This impacts the environment and climate, approximately six per cent of the total emission of greenhouse gasses can be prevented by reducing food waste.

TO2-solution

WUR researches how we can prevent or reduce food waste and reuse waste streams. Wageningen researchers work on measuring and monitoring resource efficiency and wastage. At a national level, per link in the chain, per sector and for individual businesses.

Impact

WUR’s research and propelling function could reduce food waste by half by 2030. This contributes significantly to a future-proof food system (more food security, fewer adverse effects on the climate). For the Netherlands, this means a million tonnes of additional food resources that can be used for high-quality purposes in the food chain.

This article was previously published in the TO2-magazine.