How are countries leading the way against food waste?

A comprehensive analysis indicates the efficacy of well-crafted legislative frameworks in reducing household food waste generation.

Rafiq Maqbool/AP/File
A local train moves past burning garbage at a local train station in Mumbai, India (Jan 26, 2015).

According to research from the World Resources Institute and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 1.5 quadrillion calories of food are wasted, globally. Thirty-five percent of this food wasted along the supply chain occurs at the consumption stage. Findings from a recent study suggest that countries with coherent regulations, policies, and strategies for addressing household food waste (HFW) have lower levels of HFW generation. 

The study, entitled “The global economic and regulatory determinants of household food waste generation: a cross-country analysis,” compared data from 44 countries of several income levels, between 2005 and 2012. Among the main findings was a 61 percent lower generation of household food waste (HFW) when comprehensible, sound legislation was present, compared to countries which did not have such schemes. The authors looked for both the presence of legislative frameworks and the presence of “defined targets, strategies, or plans to stimulate and support the general legal framework in fighting HFW.” An example of a legislative framework is Malaysia’s National Strategic Plan for Municipal Solid Waste, wherein the government has set a goal of 20 percent recycling and 100 percent at-source separation of organic wastes by 2020. Through this strategic plan, the government commits to household waste separation, strategies to alleviate greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector, and the use of composting and anaerobic digestion plants to treat household food waste.

Economic initiatives proved to be runner-up regarding HFW reduction at the country level, enabling a 45 percent lower level of HFW generation. An example of economic initiatives targeting food waste includes Pay-as-you-throw schemes. PAYT incentivizes reduced HFW by incurring fees based on weight or volume of waste that is collected. Another economic measure is the use of landfill taxes, wherein charges are imposed for the disposal of waste in landfills. The study also describes incineration taxes as an economic initiative, which is often implemented in combination with a landfill tax, according to the article. The incineration tax ensures that waste is not diverted from landfills to incinerators, and also “promotes separation at source and recycling practices,” say the article’s authors.

When economic initiatives were combined with aforementioned policy measures, the results indicated no additional, significant effect on HFW levels. This led the authors to suggest that sturdy and comprehensible regulations, policies, and strategies can act as stand-alone frameworks, without applying economic schemes.

The results of the study also indicate a relationship between per capita income and per capita HFW, with the authors noting that a 10 percent increase in per capita income was associated with a 7 percent increase in HFW. According to the World Resources Institute, developing countries generate higher levels of food waste during the earlier production and transport stages of the food supply chain, rather than at the household consumption stage.

The study finds that other national-level measures, including awareness campaigns and food redistribution programs, can have an impact on HFW generation. As described by the authors, awareness campaigns strive to build upon public knowledge of the issues surrounding food waste, to affect consumer opinions and practices of HFW disposal. One example of an awareness campaign is the Love Food Hate Waste campaign in the United Kingdom, which was spearheaded by the nonprofit, government-sponsored organization, WRAP. Food redistribution programs involve the reallocation of unconsumed foods, typically to communities with low access to food.

This article first appeared at Food Tank.

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