Tackling Food Waste to Fight Climate Change

Navigating Climate Resilience and Food Waste Challenges

2023 was declared the hottest year since measurements began; there is no denying the fight against climate change is far from over. Sadly, UNEP’s Emissions Gap report 2023 draws a bleak picture of broken climate records with highest temperatures, GHG emissions and atmospheric levels of CO2, leaving an emissions gap for both 2°C and 1.5°C pathways. 

While the phase-out of fossil fuels was a key element of discussion during the most recent COP28 in Dubai, it is certainly not the only topic that we as consumers, growers, and brands must address. The impact of loss, damage, and climate adaptation within the food system must be addressed in a more critical method. 

Food and climate change 

Agrifood systems contribute significantly to climate change, with food production accounting for nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.  At the same time, climate change has detrimental impacts on our food system, through droughts, unpredictable rain patterns, floods, pest outbreaks, and extreme weather events. 

To dig deeper and better understand the issues contributing to the climate crisis, it’s important to address the activities that accelerate the changes within our industry: deforestation, livestock farming, soil and nutrient management, and in this case, food loss and waste.  

Food loss and waste 

Food loss occurs during the multiple phases of food production: harvest, post-production, storage, transportation, primary processing, and wholesale. The FAO Food Loss Index estimates that 13.2% of food is lost during production.  The UNEP uses its Food Waste Index report to communicate food wasted (food that is not consumed) at retail, food service, and households. According to their calculations, an estimated 8-10% of global GHG emissions can be associated with food waste. Both indices report on progress, as defined in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3, which sets goals for food loss and waste reductions.  Taking a proactive stance and addressing issues with food loss and waste will certainly help address sustainable development, such as health and poverty, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food system. In addition, we can help reduce production costs within the supply chain. 

Food companies can take action at different levels: 

  • Prevent post-harvest losses, which can occur due to poor storage facilities, leading to spoilage before the food reaches the consumers. It’s important to perform inspections at critical points of the supply chain to detect, mitigate, and prevent issues.  
  • Some amount of food gets wasted during processing due to inefficient machinery or procedures; peeling, slicing and washing processes can lead to excessive food discards. To prevent processing losses, audit processing facilities to ensure best practices are applied. 
  • Agricultural losses due to disease, pests or damage from weather conditions can be addressed through audits and certifications on best agricultural practices. In many cases, produce is left to rot on the field, as it may not meet the aesthetic requirements of a retailer. In this case, consider joining the “ugly fruit and vegetable” movement.
  • Supply chain coordination inefficiencies can result in food sitting too long in storage or not being transported quickly enough to markets or processing facilities. Make sure to know all links/participants in the supply chain of your products. Using the most advanced and accurate technology to monitor quality, safety, and sustainability performance of all links and personnel allows for real-time alerts of potential delays, as quickly as possible in the process.   
  • Extending the shelf life of products and educating consumers is another helpful means to help reduce food waste. Innovation within our industry will be key here, as local governments may change the status quo quickly (think of the ban of plastic packaging for fruit and veg in France). 

Navigating the Path to a Sustainable Tomorrow 

In addressing the challenges outlined in COP28, our commitment to combat food waste becomes a beacon of hope. Beyond 2023, our collective responsibility toward climate resilience stands strong.

If this is the focus, we correlate it with standards, serving as tools to guide agricultural producers in compliance with environmental issues, food waste, responsibility, productivity, and quality control. By embracing sustainable practices, certifications, and innovative solutions, we contribute to a resilient and equitable future.