Reducing food waste with WUR’s MAGNET

July 19, 2023

MAGNET, short for Modular Applied General Equilibrium Tool and developed by Wageningen Economic Research has been instrumental in analysing the economic, social and environmental impacts of reducing food waste in the EU. Heleen Bartelings, international policy researcher at Wageningen Economic Research: ”By extending MAGNET with a food waste module, we can model the entire waste flow through the economy starting from post-harvest losses to final consumption. This makes it possible to look at the entire food waste problem and analyse where in the economy waste policies targeting a reduction of food waste would have the largest impact at the lowest possible societal costs.”

The result is a model-based analysis for The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre with the name ‘Assessing the Economic, Social and Environmental impacts of food waste reduction targets.’ The study calculates the impact of three scenarios of food waste reduction: 12%, 23% and 41% of reduction in EU food waste in the whole supply chain.

Less food waste: less greenhouse gas emissions

The outcome: when we throw away less food, households in the European Union could save 220-720 euros on average every year. In addition, wasting less food could help reduce food prices. For example, the JRC report estimates that the price of vegetables could decrease by up to 4%, while fruit prices could come down by 2%. Interesting fact: Food waste accounts for about 16% of total greenhouse gas emissions from the EU food system. It is estimated that cutting food waste could lead to a reduction of up to 108 million tonnes greenhouse gas emissions, depending on the scenario considered.

The report also estimates that the less food we waste, the less food has to be produced to feed the EU’s population. If the EU is quick to reduce, EU food exports would become more competitive worldwide as a result. If exports increase, this could balance out some of the negative impacts that come from a lower domestic demand for the EU’s food sector.

Initiatives saved 265 thousand tonnes

Researchers also mapped out the initiatives in 20 countries by retailers, councils, consumers, schools and others to throw away less food. They found school programmes, digital tools, valorisation for surplus food and projects targeted at consumers, e.g., to raise awareness. The surveyed initiatives have saved around 265 thousand tonnes of food over one year.

There were also initiatives carried out by EU Member States, aiming at people’s behaviour, supply chain efficiency or redistribution of food. Also, steps were taken to explain consumers about date marking on products, to prevent people from throwing away food too quickly.

131 kg of wasted food per person

In 2020 in the EU, 59 tonnes of food ended in the bin. That amounts to 131 kg of wasted food per person in the EU. Looking at what makes up the EU food waste, fruits and vegetables take the largest portion in the bin, accounting for 27% and 20%, respectively. Cereals (13%), meat (10%) and potatoes (10%) have a considerable share as well.

Targets to reduce food waste

It is, therefore, not surprising that halving the amount of food waste in Europe by 2030 is a target of the Sustainable Development Goals, reflected by the Farm to Fork Strategy within the European Green Deal. To accelerate the EU’s contribution to this global objective, the European Commission has proposed targets to reduce food waste in the EU. These must be achieved by Member States by 2030. In that year, there needs to be 10% less food waste in the processing and manufacturing of food and 30% less in retail and consumption.