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1

Food Waste: Extent, Causes, Consequences, Reduction
and Treatments
Table of contents
1.

Introduction.................................................................................................4

2.

Definition of food waste as referred to in this paper...................................4

3.

Statistics of food waste................................................................................5
3.1

Overall numbers and percentages.....................................................5

3.2

Reasons and comparison of the amount of food disposals on
different stages..................................................................................6

4.

Ethical aspects relating to food dissipation................................................ 9
4.1 Environmental issues.............................................................................9
4.2 Social problems....................................................................................11

5.

Reduction of waste in food production, distribution and consumption.....13
5.1 Preventative measures from the fields to the supermarkets................13
5.1.1 Workshops for farmers........................................................13
5.1.2 Minimizing of harvesting leftovers.....................................14
5.1.3 Enhancement of cooling measures......................................14
5.2 Diminishment of waste in groceries....................................................14
5.2.1 Stop discounting actions......................................................14
5.2.2 Methods of saving food determined to be disposed.............15
5.3 Decrease of disposals in food consumption.........................................19
5.3.1 Reduction of waste at restaurants.........................................19
5.3.2 Contraction of dissipation at households..............................19

6.

Ways of the disposal of food.....................................................................21
6.1 Facilities for companies ..........................................................21

2

6.1.1 Generation of Energy...........................................................22
6.1.2 Recycling to animal food.....................................................23
6.2 Composting as an alternative for households......................................23
7.

National policies........................................................................................24

8.

Personal conclusion...................................................................................25

9.

List of figures.............................................................................................26

10.

Bibliography..............................................................................................28

11.

10.1

Print materials..............................................................................28

10.2

Online materials...........................................................................28

10.3

Others...........................................................................................29

Declaration of Authorship..........................................................................30

3

1. Introduction
Food waste is one of the biggest dilemmas of our generation. It has drawn my attention
when I saw the movie "Taste the waste" by Valentin Thurn and since then it has always
been on my mind. Dissipation of nourishment is present worldwide, but is most
cataclysmic in industrial countries. At times of excruciating hunger amongst huge parts
of the world's inhabitants it is truly shocking how much food is wasted by us. It is about
time to provide sustenance for all people around the world - we have to change our
perspective on this issue and work all together: Producers, distributors and consumers.

Garbage Truck discharging its payload1

2. Definition of food waste as referred to in this paper
As there are many different definitions, it is important to define the food waste this
thesis will be about. It will refer to all profusion of nourishment produced for human
consumption excluding non-edible manufactures made out of edible ingredients e.g.
biofuels or starch based cosmetics as well as animal food. Furthermore, all non-edible
disposals created in food production e.g. packaging, waste water or pesticides won't fall
under the here defined term. Additionally excluded are all by-products which would be
edible, but usually aren't eaten in society e.g. potato shells.
1 Fig. 1, Liu, 2009

4

3. Statistics of food waste
This point will show facts and numbers which in most cases are only estimations,
because the wastage of food is very difficult to measure as researches will have to
analyse unbelievably huge amounts of actual disposal and institutions e.g. groceries
often won't give out statistics if they have them, since they are afraid of public
reactions.2
3.1. Overall numbers and percentages
The research results of food waste differ widely, so it is difficult to name certain
amounts and this paper will often introduce more than one number per subject.
According to the FAO, one third of all nourishment meant for human consumption are
wasted per year which corresponds 1.3 billion tons3.
But not all countries dissipate equally, as all in all about 30 percent of food is wasted, in
industrialized nations like the USA, France or Germany up to 50 percent of all
nourishment is disposed4 on its way from the field to the consumer's stomach.
The BSR claims it is 65 billion pounds per year in the US which equates about 32,5
million tons5, while in the movie "Dive! Living off America's waste" it is suggested to
be 96 billion pounds or 48 million tons.6 Speaking of the European Union the film
"Taste the Waste" asserts it is about 90 million tons per year. 7 On top of that the movie
"Dive! Living off America's Waste" alleges it could even be 200 billion pounds or 100
million tons in the EU.8

2
3
4
5
6
7
8

cf. Seifert, 2010, 11 ff.
cf. Gustavsson, 2011, 4
cf. Kreutzberger, 2011, 10
cf. n.a., 2012, 1
cf. Seifert, 2010, 0
cf. Thurn, 2011, 15
cf. Seifert, 2010, 45

5

Amount of disposals of different products in millions of tons9

This diagram shows the waste of food in millions of tons in the EU across different
product sectors. You can see that vegetables and fruit are disposed the most with about
130 million tons and wine is disposed the least in this graph with about 5 million tons.
Milk is dissipated the second most with almost 60 million tons.
3.2. Reasons and comparison of the amount of food disposals on different stages
There are many phases at which nourishment can be wasted.
Firstly, there is the agricultural stage at which food losses occur when for example the
existence of a dry or very cold period of time or a plague will cause plants to die. This is
a bigger problem in developing countries, by the reason that farmers often don't have
the means to purchase fertilizer or pesticides or to water their crops and therefore will
have greater losses at the agricultural stadium.
Secondly, there is the harvesting stage at which the greatest losses happen if crops are in
or being delivered to Europe or the USA, because trading regulations and high quality
demands of distributors cause wrong sized or non-perfect-looking, but perfectly edible
crops to be thrown away. This can be up to 50 percent of the whole harvest, but on
average is 5-10 percent.10 Thirdly, there is the post harvest stage at which food is stored
by farmers until it is picked up. At this phase much of it spoils, especially at very hot
areas.
9 Fig. 2, Waldron, 2007 (p. 4)
10 cf. Thurn, 2011, 22 ff.

6

Fourthly, the logistics stage either brings a crop directly from the field to a distributor or
takes it to processing first and delivers the end-product to a grocery. Losses at this
stadium occur due to spilling and interruptions at the cold chain which especially cause
meat and fish to decay.
Fifthly, there is the processing phase at which waste occurs for many reasons such as
wrongly calculated amounts or too long or wrong storage causing stocks to decay or as
one-size cutting for example in fries production at which many producers want equally
shaped and sized fries and therefore don't use the outer parts of potatoes.
Sixthly, there is the distribution stage at which food is squandered as a result of
unhappiness about the quality or, if new commodities have arrived, the oldest ones are
thrown away to make space for the new ones. In most cases this happens due to the best
before date being expired or about to expire, even though the best before date is
attached to no law which would forbid to sell nourishment after its expiration, but it just
assures the food to keep certain characteristics. As opposed to this, the use-by date must
not be expired for the reason that it assures products like meat to be harmless to health.
Because bakeries often have to keep their whole assortment available with the evenings
being no exceptions, for example Austrian bakeries have to throw away 10-25 percent
of their pastries for the sake of not loosing their customers to the competition. 11 Literally
last but not least, the consumer stage causes a huge part of food waste, since end users
are afraid of expired best before dates, just don't need certain ingredients for cooking
any more or have leftovers from their meals which they throw away.
The BSR states that on average a European or North American consumer dissipates 95115 kg food per year12 - more than the average weight of themselves. According to
British researchers, 15-20 percent of the fare that British people buy and that is still
edible lands in the trash. Most of that are potatoes, followed by bread and apples.
While salad wasn't found the most common still edible trash from British households, it
is the food with the highest probability of being thrown away after being bought: 45
percent of all salad bought by the British gets disposed.13

11 cf. Kreutzberger, 2011, 75
12 cf. n.a., 2012, 1
13 cf. Kreutzberger, 2011, 83

7

Per capita food losses and waste in kg per year14

This chart shows the per capita food losses in different regions parted in dissipation at
the consumer stage and waste at all phases before. You can see clearly that everywhere
in the world production disposes more than end users. Moreover, the percentage of
nourishment wasted by purchasers differs widely between the areas. A rule could be: the
poorer a state is, the more "holy" food will be for its population and the less likely it
will be thrown away. Africa's inhabitants throw away the least amount, followed by
South & Southeast Asia, Latin America and North Africa, West & Central Asia in this
order. Industrialized Asia's consumers are the third biggest wasters, Europe the second
and North America & Oceania are most responsible for food squander with about 40
percent of the whole regions food disposal.

Cereal food losses at certain stages in percent15
14 Fig. 3, Gustavsson, 2011 (p. 5)
15 Fig. 4, ibid. (p. 6; spelling mistake in the original source)

8

This diagrammatic overview shows how much waste emerges at which phase of the five
stages picked by the FAO and in which area showing the example of cereals. You can
see that Europe, North America & Oceania and Industrialized Asia have the highest
percentage of cereal profusion in relation to their yield. While in Subsaharan Africa and
South & Southeast Asia the consumers dissipate less than five percent of their total
cereals, in North America & Oceania and Europe it is more than 20 percent. The
agricultural losses are highest in developing areas and therefore in all areas excluding
Europe, North America & Oceania and Industrialized Asia. The percentage of waste in
processing and distribution is almost equal in all areas. The percentage of post
harvesting disposals containing waste at storage times and logistics is highest in all
Asian and African areas, maybe this is because of difficult storing conditions like severe
heat in Africa and South Asia as well as long delivery routes especially from Asia where
the food that is delivered to the USA has to cross the whole Pacific Ocean and the food
that goes to Europe has to cross Russia or to go by plane, which supports spilling.
These were just some of the uncountable reasons for nutrient waste. After all, no single
culprit can be found, as not only the consumer but every part of the food supply chain
disposes a high amount of nourishment of which a big part definitely could be avoided.
4. Ethical aspects relating to food dissipation
Food waste it is to be very critically discussed on an ethical point of view as it causes
lots of environmental and social problems.
4.1 Environmental issues
The impact of our consumer behaviour on the environment is huge. There are several
problems that are directly connect to food waste. The production of nourishment needs
large supplies of water and the food we waste costs about 25 percent of all
anthropologically used water.16 For example to produce 1 kg of beef up to 16000 litres
of water are needed,17 so if you throw away a steak which usually is around 250 grams
you waste not only the steak, but as much water as an average person would use for
taking 40 baths. In a world where water levels lower drastically this is a serious
problem. Also squander in the fishing industry is a very controversial theme considering
of the 90 million tons captured fish and seafood up to 80 percent are thrown back into
16 cf. Kreutzberger, 2011, 14
17 cf. ibid., 56

9

the sea, because they are the wrong kind or size or fishing quota have been overcome. A
big part of these fish will die and due to that fact in Europe 88 percent of the different
kinds of fish are overfished. It is prognosticated by scientists that in 2048 the
commercial fishing in the sea will come to an end due to lack of fish. 18 Food waste,
which makes up 20 percent of the volume of landfills,19 produces 15 percent of the
worldwide methane emission. Methane is a greenhouse gas which for the environment
is 25 times more harmful than CO².20 Food in landfills is responsible for big parts of
this, because microbes produce lots of methane while they degrade the mass. Methane is
also created by cattle like cows and sheep and by wetland agriculture of rice in Asia.
Moreover, nitrogen-based fertilizers set free N²O² (dinitrogendioxide) - a greenhouse
gas 295 times more detrimental than CO².21

The dirty truth: a typical landfill22

CO² itself is present in food production due to logistics - all the trucks and ships and
planes that import and export nourishment will blow huge amounts of it in the
atmosphere. Furthermore an important point is the tropical deforestation for cash crops,
but mainly for pasturage area and animal food crops. This does not only destroy rare
18
19
20
21
22

cf. ibid., 126
cf. Seifert, 2010, 6
cf. Thurn, 2011, 35 ff.
cf. Kreutzberger, 2011, 138
Fig. 5, Macguire, 2012


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