More focus needed on food waste in the creation of a circular economy

In the EU, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at €143 billion. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Ahead of a Finnish Council Presidency’s conference that aims to set the EU agenda for action on food waste towards 2030, a number of companies have made commitments to reduce their food waste, but a number of barriers still stand in their way. 

A lot has been said about the promotion of a circular economy, which officials say will represent half of the EU’s effort to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and has been named as “the number one priority” of the upcoming European Green Deal.

Whilst the focus is often on plastic, the circular economy of food waste is also an area with enormous potential to create a positive environmental and social impact. 

Circular economy erected as ‘number one priority’ of European Green Deal

The circular economy, including new waste and recycling laws, will represent “half” of the EU’s effort to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and will be erected as “the number one priority” of the upcoming European Green Deal, officials have said.

In the EU, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at €143 billion. This figure is set to rise to around 126 million tonnes of food waste by 2020. 

Wasting food is not only an ethical and economic issue but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources.

One man’s waste is another man’s treasure 

There has recently been a burgeoning of interest in food waste redistribution and recycling, with more and more companies looking to donate their excess food to charities. 

Most recently, the cereal and snacks company, Kellogg Europe, has announced a new ambitious target to reduce organic waste, pledging to look into innovative uses of food that would otherwise be wasted. 

This includes, amongst other initiatives, the creation of cross-sector collaborations, in which the company is teaming up with others to create value out of a waste product. 

In the UK, for example, Kellogg has teamed up with a brewery, Seven Bro7hers, to turn its ‘less-than-perfect’ cereals and discarded grains into beer.

The move is part of the company’s commitment to Champions 12.3, a coalition of multinational businesses and organisations to reduce their food waste in line with the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals.

However, the donation of surplus food has often been hampered by an ambiguous policy concerning the use of food waste.

Back in 2017, the EU Court of Auditors released a damning report heavily criticising the European Commission for its failure to contribute to a resource-efficient food supply chain by effectively tackling food waste.

EU auditors slam Commission’s food waste policies

In a report published today (17 January), the EU Court of Auditors heavily criticised the European Commission for its failure to contribute to a resource-efficient food supply chain by effectively tackling food waste.

In a bid to address this, a revised EU waste legislation, adopted in May 2018, called on the EU countries to take action to reduce food waste at each stage of the food supply chain, monitor and report on food waste levels based on a common EU methodology for measuring food waste.

This has also led to the creation of a forthcoming paper on the recommendations for action in food waste prevention, due to be adopted by the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste by the end of 2019.

This is set to make an important contribution to redesigning our food systems and facilitating the distribution of food waste. 

A Finnish spokesperson declined to comment directly on private companies’ decisions to instigate measures to reduce their food waste, highlighting instead that during the EU Presidency Finland has been active in working towards integrating the circular economy as a central part of the next Commission’s work programme.

“We believe that circular economy provides tools to reach climate targets and halt biodiversity loss,” the spokesperson said and added that the creation of a circular economy can also contribute to opening new business opportunities, creating jobs and improving everyday life.  

A circular economy retrospective

Recycling, reuse and all things circular are taking on more and more importance in Europe. Sustainability will remain high on the agenda of the next EU legislative cycle but what tools are in place to help the industry get it across the line?

However, food waste donation continues to be a complicated issue.

EURACTIV spoke to Saasha Celestial-One, the co-Founder of OLIO, a mobile app for facilitating food-sharing, who said that ensuring the safety of donated food is particularly challenging. This, she said, sometimes discourages potential food donors and makes them unwilling to take risks associated with liability for donated food.

Celestial-One mentioned, in particular, the issue of companies not adequately complying with food safety regulations for donated food, saying that this can sometimes hinder the donation of food waste.

She also said that it still remains “easier and cheaper” for companies to throw away waste food, stating that there needs to be a financial incentive to encourage companies to donate rather than throw surplus food, citing France as a country that has successfully implemented food waste policy.

Bart Vandewaetere, head of corporate communications and government relations for Nestlé in the EMENA region, told EURACTIV that he encouraged the Commission and member states to continue working on the clarification of date labelling in order to avoid consumer confusion and help reduce their food waste.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna and Zoran Radosavljevic]

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