The Challenge: Rethinking our relationship with food
📢 Food plays an essential role in our lives. Around food, we build communities, economies, identities, and even diplomatic relationships. Despite the importance and love everyone shares for food, Food Loss and Waste (FLW) remain pressing challenges. Rethinking our relationship with food, and rebalancing our bond with Mother Nature and with the (invisible) people behind the agri-food system is at the center of reinstating circular systems, meaning systems designed around efficient use of resources and shaped for durability, reuse, remanufacturing, redistribution, and, only eventually, recycling and disposal.
Linear thinking and our compulsively ‘take – make – dispose’ attitude might paradoxically seem the solution to our problems but reality has shown that it is not. Taking inspiration from Nature where the concept of waste does not exist, because everything that is not directly used by something represents a precious value for something else, also humankind urges an embrace of regenerative systems that are able to return to the environment what we take for our livelihoods.
Why it is important: The environmental, social and economic costs of waste
❗Halving the global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains by 2030 is one of the goals included in the Agenda 2030 to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG 12).
It is clear that FLW is not just a matter of throwing uneaten food scraps away, but it implies detrimental consequences for the environment, for human health, and eventually also for the economy.[With 1.3 billion tons of food being wasted per year on a global scale, the ecological footprint of FLW is massive. 4.4 million km2 of land, an area larger than the entire Indian subcontinent, is used to grow the food that is lost on farms each year. This is an aspect that builds on the huge quantity of water used to produce food that will eventually never be eaten, and useless climate pressure. In fact, if food waste was a country, it [would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States.
These are costs that inevitably reverberate on human health, which is dealing with issues such as feeding an increasing global population and the rise in malnutrition – in most cases associated with soil impoverishment and lack of micronutrients.
But these unsustainable patterns also generate incredible economic losses. The annual value of food loss is estimated at USD 400 billion, equivalent to the GDP of Austria, while in the European Union, the estimated economic damage of food waste, roughly 88 million tons, is 143 billion euros.
Despite all these challenges, though, we should not think that FLW is an unhackable or unsolvable issue. On the contrary, increasing awareness and attention towards our food choices and promoting new sustainable habits can represent a big part of the solution, as confirmed by the fact that in Italy 46% of food loss and waste is due to distraction, as the 2021 Waste Watcher reports.
It is only from food that we can achieve the idea of unique and diffused well-being (One Planet – One Health). Less food wastage means more equal and resilient food systems, more ethics and rights for farmers, and better revalorization of food.
The EU Strategy and the road towards a Circular Economy
🇪🇺 The EU, in the view of achieving the goals set by the European Green Deal and in light of the Farm to Fork strategy, has inserted the reduction of food waste into its priorities. The European road to the achievement of this goal involves two major actions:
- Setting equal targets to reduce food waste to be reached by 2023, also by improving food waste legislation and measurement practices within the Union, and re-stating the importance of the revised Waste Framework Directive adopted in 2018;
- Revising, by the end of 2022, the date marking system (“use by” and “best before”), which currently causes up to 10% of the European food loss and is among the top causes of households’ food waste in Europe.
This is a process that the EU has built over time, with the Circular Economy Action Plan, adopted in 2015, to help transition the European Union towards more sustainable economic growth and to make it a global leader in circular economy policymaking. Within this Plan, which now counts at least 14 member states, 8 regions, and 11 cities who have implemented their own circular economy strategies, FLW has been tackled under different perspectives, from the Sustainable Products Initiative, including the proposal for the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation to the review of requirements on packaging in the EU. The 2015 Circular Economy Action Plan also included the creation of an EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste for the creation of a multi-stakeholder network that could help the EU reach the Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3 (halving per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030, reducing food loss within food chains). The network of actors included all the Member States, 3 European Institutions, International Organizations (such as FAO), private sector organizations, and citizens. The new Platform, re-established in 2022 for a second mandate, aims to work with all the key players to identify and develop the best solutions to tackle food loss and waste.
Education and digitalization also represent key elements to solve FLW issues. This is the path taken by EIT Food, the European Knowledge and Innovation Community directly supported by the European Union to accelerate innovation in the agrifood system. Get Wasted, a digital software platform that allows users to track food surpluses and connect supply chains and distribution chains, is only one of the several projects funded by EIT Food, in its mission of promoting circular food systems.
Seeds of Change: Cooperation to “feed” a prosperity thinking mindset
🌱 Since the very beginning, fighting and preventing one of the most evident dysfunctions of the agri-food systems – food loss and waste – has been at the core of the Future Food Institute mission, in all three of our pillars of action.
- Education: reversing the current production and consumption patterns requires drastically rethinking the way we approach, choose, and consider food. Raising awareness and educating people towards responsible use and consumption is the first necessary step to take. Since 2015, through Hackathons, such as Waste 2 Value, Hack Waste, Hack for SDGs through to the recent two editions of the Hackathon in the schools we developed in collaboration with Cosmopolites, we have concretely engaged students in finding and prototyping solutions to accelerate the creation of circular systems. We have approached kids and let them reflect on the importance of caring about food to prevent food waste and actively collaborated with school canteens to give new life to waste. Also, our Boot Camps (both in their in-person and digital versions) and the collaboration with the FAO elearning Academy Future Food is giving special attention to food loss and waste reduction, prevention, and rethinking, by “feeding” a prosperity thinking mindset.
- Innovation: innovation has several facets, especially when applied to preventing and reducing FLW. At first, innovation is driven by connecting different players: this has been at the core of the Food Innovation Program and the Global Mission, the FF master program designed to connect protagonists and ideas applied to sustainable and circular agrifood chains all around the world. Innovation also means supporting companies, farmers, and innovators in finding and scaling up long-lasting solutions, such as upcycling which starts from the premise that products are re-thought and reused to create innovative products. These are the kinds of ideas that were also implemented within our latest Living Lab in Pollica, the Paideia Campus, where local organic compost, upcycling of agricultural byproducts, and Posidonia valorization have been developed to support the local community. But innovation also means restoring ancient techniques and making them suitable to solve current challenges. This is exactly behind the mission of our Food Alchemist Team and their Kombucha, which relies on fermentation, a pearl of ancient wisdom that can extend food life by weeks, months, or even years when stored at room temperature.
- Community: in order to prevent food loss and reduce food waste, a new concept of cooperation must be developed: “we need to help each other” and “what is someone’s loss might be someone else’s gain” might appear as catchphrases but in this case, they are not! Given the complexity of the topic, only an approach that involves legislators, citizens, companies, and communities can achieve the final goal. In this sense, we are proud of having been part of the process that has led the United Nations to recognize the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, on September 29th. This was possible thanks to the stable collaborations with institutional organizations and UN Agencies, such as UNIDO and FAO, with researchers and entrepreneurs, companies and students, governments, and policymakers. In the end, fighting FLW is a matter of Food Diplomacy, meaning that it is deeply related to food access, food safety, and food sovereignty. Collaboration is therefore the answer to take the global society one step forward. Collaborative consumption models, exemplified in the Italian community cooperatives, can increase efficiency and suitability to foster forms of sharing economy. For this reason, part of the FF mission in the Living Lab in Pollica is creating a Community Cooperative, able to better connect stakeholders and facilitate food distribution, and supporting existing farmers’ networks, such as Rareche Natural Rural Market, a network of farmers and companies that work for regenerative agriculture in Cilento. “Waste to taste” is in fact a perfect example of how much community building, increased awareness, and food loss and waste prevention are tied together.
For this reason food loss and waste will also be central during the EU Agrifood week, ten days where, directly from the Paideia Campus in Pollica, young people, farmers, agri-food industry leaders, policymakers, journalists, scientists, innovators, investors, startups, and EU representatives will debate on the crucial steps needed to regenerate the current agri-food system.
“Waste is a design flaw.” – Kate Krebs
Each of us can do our part to reverse this trend.
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