Sarah Broderick and Colum Gibson
Summary: Food waste is a global problem that has environmental, social and economic consequences. According to the hierarchy of waste management, prevention is the most favourable action to take when trying to manage food waste. The commercial sector, which refers to food wholesale, retail and service, accounts for 17% of food waste in European countries.
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An estimated 1 million tonnes of food waste is generated throughout the food system in Ireland annually. In addition to the lost economic value, this represents a massive waste of resources (land, water, materials), as well as producing associated greenhouse gas emissions. The commercial sector (food wholesale, food retail and food service) accounts for ~17% of food waste in European countries and has been identified as an area that has great potential for food waste reduction. In Ireland, the commercial sector generates an estimated 200,000 tonnes of food waste annually. Prior to this research there was little specific information on the sub-sectors involved, the types of food being wasted and the reasons for that waste being generated. Such information is required to prevent food waste, which, according to the waste management hierarchy, is the preferred option. In order to address this information deficit, food waste mapping of commercial sub-sectors was carried out across Ireland. It was found that four sub-sectors – food retail, accommodation, food service (i.e. restaurants) and workplace canteens – account for up to 75% of commercial food waste. These were investigated and reported on in detail.
Reducing food waste is a critical step to mitigating global climate change. Target 12.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims to halve food waste in the commercial sector by 2030. The revised 2018 European Union (EU) waste legislation, adopted as part of the Circular Economy Action Plan, requires Member States to monitor and report on food waste levels throughout the supply chain. Such information is essential for identifying where food waste is being generated, implementing food waste prevention programmes and tracking progress towards reduction targets. The 2019 EU Delegated Act on food waste monitoring provides a common methodology to support the quantification of national food waste. There is no dedicated national food waste prevention policy or strategy in Ireland. Food waste figures can be extracted from national waste data, but there is no specific reporting system in place for food waste. A formal national policy and food waste reporting system are required to ensure that Ireland builds on the existing national expertise and meets the global food waste reduction target set out by SDG 12.3, as well as upcoming food waste reporting requirements.
This research refined the existing national food waste assessment methodology in line with international requirements and applied it to the main sub-sectors identified. A series of sectoral food waste profiles, benchmarks and food waste cost factors was developed – these are needed to ensure that specific sectors, and individual businesses, have the information, skills and tools required to facilitate food waste prevention initiatives. The main project findings have been developed into a suite of sector-specific materials for promotion through sectoral and national stakeholders. Key project recommendations are as follows: