Sustainable Waste | Food waste and sustainability

According to projections by FAO, the worldwide food production has to increase of 70% by 2050, in order to be able to supply enough food for the growing world population. However, today more than one third of the food that we grow and process is lost or waste. Food waste entails high environmental costs.

“Food loss: The decrease in edible food mass at the production, post-harvest, processing and
distribution stages in the food supply chain. These losses are mainly caused by inefficiencies in the food supply chains, like poor infrastructure and logistics, lack of technology, insufficient skills, knowledge and management capacity of supply chain actors, no access to markets. In addition, natural disasters play a role.”

“Food waste: Food which is fit for consumption being discarded, usually at retail and consumer level. This is a major problem in industrialized nations, where throwing away is often cheaper than using or re-using, and consumers can afford to waste food. Accordingly, food waste is usually avoidable.”

FAO definitions

Per capita food losses and waste, at consumption and pre-consumptions stages, in different regions
Source: Gustavsson 2011. Global Food Losses and Food Waste.

It is key in the achievement of a sustainable society to reduce food waste and to recycle it, instead of sending food to landfills. Climate change is in fact heavily influenced by the CO2 and methane produced in landfill. Reducing the amount of food sent to landfill will therefore help tackling the climate problem.

Moreover, recycling food not only will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases sent to the atmosphere, but it can turn a waste stream into a very useful commodity. Two are the main systems in which waste food can be recycled and reworked into something useful to society:

  1. Vessel composting. This process will turn food into compost and can be subsequently used as a fertilizer.
  2. Anaerobic digestion.  This is a process in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process is widely used as a source of renewable energy; it in fact produces a biogas that can be used to replace fossil fuels.

Food waste in the UK

Research estimates that 8.3 million tonnes per year of food waste is produced by households in the UK. This number corresponds to 330 kg per year per household, or a little more than 6 kg per household per week. Approximately two third of the total waste is estimated to be avoidable. Of this avoidable food waste the 40% is generated by leftover after cooking, preparing or serving.

Proportion of weight of all food and drink waste, split by food group
Source: WRAP 2009

The avoidable food waste produces approximately 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which constitutes the 2.4% of greenhouse gas emissions associated with all consumption in the UK. Reducing the amount of household food wasted would save money, but also reduce UK environmental impact.


  1. FAO (2012). Food wastage footprint. An environmental accounting of food loss and waste. Concept Note. N. R. M. a. E. Department, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
  2. Gustavsson, J., C. Cederberg, et al. (2011). Global Food Losses and Food Waste. Study conducted for the International Congress ‘Save Food!’ at Interpack2011. Dusseldorf, Germany, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  3. Quested, T. and A. Parry (2011). New estimates for household food and drink waste in the UK. Final Report. Banbury, WRAP.
  4. Nellemann, C., M. MacDevette, et al. (2009). The environmental food crisis. The environment’s role in averting future food crises. A UNEP rapid response assessment, United Nations Environment Programme, GRID_Arendal.
  5. Quested, T. and H. Johnson (2009). Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK. Final Report. Banbury, WRAP.
  6. “Help save the environment simply by wasting less food.” Retrieved 21.11.12, from
  7. “Food Waste. Can it be recycled?”. Retrieved 21.11.12, from

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