Reducing Food Loss and Waste through Cross-Sector Collaboration
Around the world, approximately one-third of all food produced is never eaten. That’s 1.3 billion tons of food, valued at $1 trillion. All along the supply chain, it is lost or wasted — whether that’s at the farm, where the cost of harvesting produce can frequently be more than the price farmers would receive for selling it; or at the grocery store, where retailers pull perfectly good food off their shelves when it approaches an estimated “expiration” date; or in our homes, where our often limited knowledge about how to store and prepare different types of food leads to it sitting on the counter or in our refrigerator before eventually ending up in the garbage. What happens to food that is never eaten? Much of it goes to landfill, where it decomposes and generates methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide. In fact, food loss and waste is estimated to be responsible for approximately 8-10% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
The urgency of addressing food waste as a climate change solution was underscored throughout the past few months as we were faced with shocking images of hazy, smoke-filled streets in New York City; wildfires tearing through Maui and Canada; plus record temperatures across the United States and around the world, with NASA deeming this past July as the hottest month on record — ever. While we might not be able to draw a direct line between any single one of these events and climate change, it is clear that they are all part of a pattern of extreme weather that is either caused or exacerbated by the warming of the planet.
Food loss and waste is a system-wide problem, which means it will take system-wide action to solve it. Because it occurs throughout the supply chain, there’s not one single solution — it will take many solutions implemented by many actors to reach international goals to reduce food loss and waste by 50% by the year 2030. And because much of the loss and waste that happens at one stage of the supply chain can be influenced by what happens upstream or downstream, it’s important that businesses work together to activate solutions to achieve their waste reduction goals. Sustainability is no longer a competitive issue; businesses are starting to understand that they can make more of an impact when they collaborate with their industry peers.
One example of this is the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment (PCFWC). Modeled after similar collaborations around the world, including the Courtauld Commitment in the United Kingdom and Pacto por la Comida in Mexico, the PCFWC is a public-private partnership between some of the largest food businesses in the United States and government entities in the states of California, Oregon and Washington — working together and with nongovernmental organization (NGO) resource partners ReFED, World Wildlife Fund and WRAP — to drive effective, industry-wide action to achieve a 50% reduction in food loss and waste by 2030. The PCFWC works closely with businesses to track, report and analyze their food waste data to identify areas where resources need to be focused; anonymized data is also aggregated and reported publicly to provide benchmarks for the broader industry to measure their own waste reduction efforts. PCFWC signatories also participate in a series of working groups and intervention projects to tackle specific food waste challenges within their operations. The PCFWC currently has 17 business signatories, with representatives from across the supply chain working together to drive impact; businesses would not have access to the sort of data and opportunities that a collaboration like this offers if they were working on their own.
The good news about reducing food loss and waste is that solutions already exist, and innovators are developing more all the time. What is needed now is the right combination of motivation, funding and stakeholder alignment for those solutions to be implemented and to scale. As we see all too often in the news, the future of the planet depends on it.