How to deal with the global food waste, individually or structurally  

How to deal with the global food waste, individually or structurally  

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How to deal with the global food waste, individually or structurally

Food waste has adverse effects on the environment, the economy and the agri-food industry in individual countries and the world, and thus has environmental , ethical, economic and food security implication. Food wastage is estimated to 1.3 billion metric tonnes globally according to the food and agricultural organization (FAO), and 35.5 million metric tonnes in Canada (Kiran, et al., 2014).

Of the 30 % of food produced in the world is either lost or wasted every year, wealthy countries are the largest contributors to food wastage globally while most food loses occur in low income countries. Specifically, between 95 and 115 kilograms of food is wasted per capita by people in Europe and North America annually compared to between 6 and 11 kilograms in Southeast Asian and sub-Saharan countries (FAO, 2011). Moreover, about half of all the food wasted in wealthy countries occurs at the household level (Stancu, Haugaard & Lahteenmaki, 2016). Therefore, addressing food wastage in wealthy countries can reduce the associated negative effects significantly. From this premise, the ensuing discussion dwells on dealing with the global systemic food wastage problem at the individual and structural level, and recommends the best way of dealing with this problem globally.      

Changes should start from individuals and households globally

Addressing food wastage globally can be undertaken at the individual and household levels considering that these are the contexts at which most food waste occurs in wealthy countries. For instance, Canadian homes wasted half of all the food wasted in the country, which was worth 27 billion dollars (Gooch, et al., 2019). If food wastage was prevented by individuals and households it would eliminate half of the food wasted in wealthy countries and contribute significantly towards preserving the environment and enhancing food security globally.     

 One way of addressing food waste is through changing household routines that contributes to the wasteful food-related behavior. Stancu, Haugaard and Lahteenmaki (2016) identified food waste behavior such as the lack of planning for the food provisions for the household, purchasing of excessive foodstuffs, and throwing away of food leftovers, which had been turned into routines. Specific food planning routines that would reduce food waste the planning for home meals well in advance, shopping for foodstuffs with a shopping list and checking the food inventories before making purchases. In addition, the food purchasing routines that would reduce waste include not purchasing of unintended food products, the purchasing of food packages that are enough for the needs in the household and not purchasing large quantities of food because they are on offer and are discounted to give the sense of their being a good value for money. This could also help counter the habit of making impulsive purchases of food because they appeal to the consumer or they promise monetary savings such as discounts. Furthermore, leftover reuse routines that would reduce food wastes include eating leftovers before making a new meal, converting leftovers into different dishes, storing leftovers appropriately to remain edible for a longer period. Accepting the use of leftovers requires knowledge about edibility and inedibility of food alongside avoidable an unavoidable food waste at the household level. According to Martin (2017) lessons about food wastage and leftovers can start at childhood when children are taught to choose food types and quantities that they can finish at each serving and accepting to consume leftovers in their next meals rather that throwing the leftovers away.   

Another way of reducing food wastes at the individual and household level is to redistribute the food to needy people within the local communities considering that many cities in wealthy countries have people who are food insecure such as the homeless and refugees. According to Stancu, Haugaard and Lahteenmaki (2016) about 65 % of the food wasted in the United Kingdom was avoidable and thus this food was edible at the time of wastage. Martin (2017) went on to observe that the redistribution of surplus foods could help increase the nutrient availability among Americans in addition to preventing wastage of food. In the same vein, restaurants and supermarkets can donate their unsold foods and leftovers to charity, schools and hospitals where they can be consumed before becoming inedible (Macdiarmid, Lang &Haines, 2016).   

However, lack of information, knowledge and skills of how to reduce food wastage by individuals in households together with deep-seated attitudes and cultural beliefs hinder the engagement in behaviors that prevent food wastages. The study by Stancu, Haugaard and Lahteenmaki (2016) revealed that many Danes lacked awareness of the economic, environmental and social impact of food wastage and as such, lacked the skills and capabilities of countering their food wastage attitudes and behavior. Notably, many individuals in wealthy countries believed that food wastage did not have negative effects on the environment such as contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions due to the energy wasted in producing food that was not consumed and from composting of food leftovers and spoilt foods (Stancu, Haugaard & Lahteenmaki, 2016).  

Changes should start from structural solutions such as government policy changes globally

Government policy and food industry self-regulation can influence the entire food value and supply chain nationally, regionally and internationally, and therefore can provide structural solutions to food wastage globally. Specifically, government policy can compel the different players at the production, distribution and consumption levels to focus on food wastage and adopt wastage prevention practice, even in homes and households. Likewise, the food industry can implement self-regulation that would help change the food wastage practices at different levels of the food value chain and among individuals and homes.   

Government policy that sets specific food wastage reduction targets is one structural solution of reducing food wastage because it compels a large segment of the food value and supply chain players alongside inspiring individuals and households to attain the targets. Notably, the European parliament resolved to reduce food wastage by half by 2025 with the European commission asking its member countries to strive towards this target (Halloran, et al., 2014). Thereafter, the Food Wastage Reduction Bill was tabled at the United Kingdom parliament in 2015, proposing to compel food manufacturers, distributors and large supermarkets to reduce supply chain food loses by 30 % and 50 % by 2025 and 2030 respectively (Macdiarmid, Lang &Haines, 2016). This approach perceives food saving as a collective effort that should involve all the stakeholders in the food value and supply chain, and therefore can lead to public good thus motivating government action.

Another structural solution to would be the standardization of regulations for labeling and packaging by the food industry that would encourage consumers to reduce food wastage. FAO (2011) noted that retailers packaged food products in large quantities and marketed extra food for free to attract customers and drive up sales and therefore desisting from such marketing practices would help reduce food wastage in wealthy countries. Similarly, Katajajuuri et al. (2014) and Halloran, et al. (2014) observed that having a less ambiguous way of informing consumers when food was not suitable for consumption because there was confusion from different packaging statements such as ‘sell by’, ‘use before’ and ‘best before’ dates. These dates would be less confusing when information on food storage conditions such as refrigeration or no refrigeration alongside the actual dates when food becomes inedible was included in the labeling to avoid throwing away of edible foods. More specific labeling that is adopted uniformly in the food industry would contribute to reduction of food wastage in wealthy countries. In the same vein, Halloran, et al. (2014) suggested that having more efficient food packaging that comprised of smarter and better packages that would protect and keep foods fresher for longer periods while availing various portion sizes to suit the different consumer demands would reduce food wastage. 

However, lack of government and food industry support is common in wealthy countries because of concerns about legislating on human behavior and personal choices that are pervasive in liberal and free market economies that are prevalent in wealthy countries. For instance, Macdiarmid, Lang and Haines (2016) observed that the United Kingdom government had failed to respond positively to the proposed Food Waste Reduction Bill even when its food waste reduction capabilities were not in question. Indeed, the citizens in wealthy countries disapprove and admonish government interference in their personal lives such as controlling food choices, which may be seen as a violation of individual liberties. This may explain why the proposed Food Waste Reduction Bill was presented to parliament as a private members bill, indicating that food wastage at the legislative level was a concern of few legislators only and therefore not a general public concern (Macdiarmid, Lang & Haines, 2016).       

Best way to deal with the problem of systemic food waste globally

From the discussed solutions, the best way of addressing food wastage in wealthy countries globally is adopting household routines that advance food-related practices that are not wasteful. Household routines related to planning, shopping and reusing of food leftovers could significantly reduce household and individual food waste, which comprise about half of the food wastage in wealthy countries.

Food wastage is a common behavior among the people in wealthy countries and therefore can be solved through behavioral change approaches. The theory of planned behavior (TPB) links behavioral intentions with the consumers’ subjective norms, behavioral attitudes and perceived behavioral control, and therefore provides a basis of changing food wastage behavior (Stancu, Haugaard & Lahteenmaki, 2016). Food waste behavior can be changed through information campaigns and communication about the environmental, economic and social benefits of reducing food waste (Neff, et al., 2015). This would help change food behaviors in wealthy countries such as stockpiling of food items because of the presence of big storage capacities at home, the need to fill the refrigerator, and the anticipation of making a special meal or entertain guests, impulsive and instinctual buying of large packages of foods and foods on offer, and discarding of food leftovers among other ingrained food attitudes (Aschemann-Witzel et al., 2015).

In addition, consumer behavior can instigate changes in the food supply chain as the food industry seeks to satisfy consumer preferences. This makes targeting individuals and households more sustainable in addressing food wastage in wealthy countries. Consumption norms are normative benchmarks that are powerful enough to be picked up by food supply chain actors and even marketers (Wansink & Van Ittersum, 2013).


Food wastage in wealthy countries is enormous and worrisome because of its environmental, economic and social ramifications. Interventions of reducing food wastage in wealthy countries can start with targeting individuals and households alongside devising structural solutions. While structural solutions such as government policies and food industry regulation compel the entrenchment of food saving habits, the changing of food waste behavior, attitudes and culture can be best effected at the individual and housed level. This is because about 50 % of food in wealthy countries is wasted by individuals and households and therefore, reducing individual and household food waste would significantly reduce food wastage globally in wealthy countries. In addition, the positive attitudes of individual towards food saving can make the structural solution for addressing food waste more acceptable by the public and players in the food value and supply chains, and therefore more effective. However, individual and household interventions would be effective only when individuals are empowered with information, knowledge and skills of the benefits of food saving behavior and the detriments of food waste behavior, which would help change their behavior, attitude and beliefs about food. Moreover, instilling food saving behaviors at childhood can help entrench the behavior in adulthood and even change the food culture in wealthy countries significantly in the long term, which would be a sustainable way of addressing the food waste culture in these countries globally.   


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