How can the world nutritiously feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050, in a way that supports rural development and tackles climate change? This is one of the great challenges of the first half of this century. The World Resources Report Creating a Sustainable Food Future introduced a menu of solutions to address this challenge. Reducing food loss and waste are an important part of this strategy.

WRI’s 2019 report Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda — published with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, and in partnership with United Nations Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Iowa State University, The University of Maryland's Ed Snider Center, The Consortium for Innovation in Postharvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction, Wageningen University and Research, and WRAP —  lays out a roadmap for how to realize the potential of reducing food loss and waste. The agenda first recommends that countries and companies follow a Target-Measure-Act approach: (a) adopt the Sustainable Development Goal target of halving food loss and waste, (b) measure their food loss and waste, and (c) take action where there are food loss and waste hotspots. Then, the agenda proposes a to-do list for each type of actor in the food supply chain. Finally, the agenda recommends 10 interventions that could scale the impact and pace of these interventions.

With our recent publication, Reducing Food Loss and Waste: 10 Interventions to Scale Impact, WRI and its partners dive deeper into these 10 scaling interventions:

  1. Develop national strategies for reducing food loss and waste.
  2. Create national public-private partnerships to tackle food loss and waste.
  3. Launch a 10 × 20 × 30 initiative to get supply chains working on reducing food loss and waste.
  4. Invigorate efforts to strengthen value chains to reduce smallholder losses.
  5. Launch a “decade of storage solutions.”
  6. Shift social norms to make wasting food socially unacceptable.
  7. Go after the hotspots of food loss and waste-related greenhouse gas emissions.
  8. Scale up financing for food loss and waste reduction technologies, enterprises, and programs.
  9. Overcome the food loss and waste data deficit.
  10. Advance the research agenda on food loss and waste.

Since the release of the Global Action Agenda, some of these interventions have begun taking off.

Take 10 × 20 × 30, for instance. This private sector effort brings together 10 of the world's biggest food retailers and providers to each engage with 20 of their priority suppliers to aim to halve rates of food loss and waste by 2030. In this manner, food loss and waste reduction efforts move up the food supply chain from 10 to approximately 200 companies around the world. Such an initiative was announced in September. Founding retailers and providers are AEON, Ahold Delhaize, Carrefour, IKEA Food, Kroger, METRO AG, Pick n Pay, The Savola Group, Sodexo, Tesco and Walmart. Together, they include five of the 10 largest food retailers in the world, the world’s second-largest food service provider and leading food retailers in regions including southern Africa and the Middle East. Combined, participants operate in more than 80 countries.

Also in September, the Sustainable Rice Platform announced that it will work with rice growers to halve on-farm and near-farm rice losses by 2030. This is a big deal, since rice accounts for one out of every six food calories in the world, supports 144 million smallholders and is responsible for 16% of global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. That makes the announcement an important contribution toward the intervention focused on targeting hotspots of GHG emissions. More food sectors – including meat and dairy – with particularly high greenhouse gas emissions should redouble efforts to reduce their food loss and waste.

Food Waste and National Climate Commitments

Countries must also step up action. Between now and December 2020, nations of the world are supposed to be ratcheting up the ambition of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement on climate change. But only about a dozen countries have food loss and waste reduction targets and strategies in their NDCs. This is a huge missed opportunity. With about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions associated with food loss and waste, reductions can be an effective means of tackling climate change while also generating food security and economic benefits.

Other interventions are still nascent. The shifting social norms intervention is about using what the world has learned from previous efforts – for example, on drunk driving, littering and smoking — and from behavioral science to change attitudes and behaviors about food waste. Sixty years ago in the United States, for instance, people would throw litter out of car windows without a thought; nowadays, few would dare to do this. And yet, today people in developed countries throw away large amounts of food at home or when they dine out. How do we get more people to see wasting food as unacceptable behavior? The world needs to find messages, messengers and means to help shift such social norms. Getting religious communities engaged might be one way to tap into the ethical dimension of food waste and touch people’s hearts and minds.

It’s heartening to see some of the 10 recommended scaling interventions gaining momentum. But we have a long way to go. The global goal of halving food loss and waste is far from becoming a reality. So I urge governments, companies, civil society, financial institutions, and citizens to identify which of these you can help make a reality. Then get started.

There’s no time, or food, to waste.