October 6, 2023

Food Consumption and Waste: Environmental Impacts From a Supply Chain Perspective

Andrea Veselá

Andrea Veselá

FoodCloud Communications Team

This summer, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC) published a policy brief on research undertaken through the creation and use of a life cycle analysis (LCA) tool developed with the aim of assessing the environmental impacts of EU food production and consumption. The results of this LCA, in particular the indicator “Consumption Footprint” have been communicated with the aim of analysing the status quo and progress in terms of meeting EU targets pertaining to sustainable food systems. This analysis was done with a focus on food waste as an important factor in the sustainability (or lack thereof) of any given food system. 

The research found that food waste contributed to 11-17% of total impacts of the EU food system, depending on product type and impact category. In the impact category of water use, food waste was responsible for 12% of total impact, while in the categories of land use and climate change this figure was 16%, in line with other research from recent years, which highlights food waste prevention as a key climate mitigation strategy. To contextualise these figures, the following graph was presented in the study, showing that if food waste were an EU member state, it would be its fifth largest emitter:

Source: reproduced from Food consumption & waste, citation below

In terms of impact of individual food categories, wasted vegetables were found to contribute to climate change much less than all other food sorts, while meat and dairy, although as categories accounting for merely 20% of the actual mass of food wasted in the EU, are responsible for over half of its negative environmental impacts. Moreover, the further along the food chain a product is wasted, the worse its environmental impact will be. This means that food waste at household or food service level is by far the most harmful. Therefore, food waste prevention becomes even more important in the later stages of the supply chain, and with 62% of food wasted at the consumption stage, this research shows the importance of measures such as surplus redistribution or increased consumer awareness in the fight against food waste and climate change.

Last Friday, FoodCloud launched the first iteration of its EPA funded carbon calculator. The calculator also uses life cycle analysis tools to measure the impact of avoiding food waste in terms of CO2e saved or avoided, and land and water use in the production of food. If you have any questions on the calculator or wish to learn how your organisation can help save or avoid waste of CO2e, and make our food system more sustainable, all while supporting the most vulnerable in our society, then please get in touch at food.cloud

The full JRC publication is available here (Sala, S., De Laurentiis, V. and Sanye Mengual, E., Food consumption and waste: environmental impacts from a supply chain perspective, European Commission, 2023, JRC129245.) 

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