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?

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. This impacts the environment and climate, approximately six per cent of the total emission of greenhouse gasses can be prevented by reducing food waste.

Some 60 per cent of the wasted food is incinerated. A waste of the billions of euros in used resources, water and energy. 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. Sanne Stroosnijder of Wageningen University & Research Food & Biobased Research explains: ‘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. WUR quantifies 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.

This article was previously published in the TO2-magazine.