Global Trends Point to the Value of Being Proactive about Food Waste

SS_foodwaste_smallWe already know food waste is a significant problem in the United States. Up to 40 percent of the food we grow and cultivate in America gets wasted every year — about $165 billion worth of food according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. However, the need to reduce food waste is also an urgent problem in the rest of the world.

The United Nations reports that about a third of the food produced globally each year, approximately 1.3 billion tons, gets wasted. If the world could reduce food waste by just one-fourth, and reclaim that food, we could feed 870 million hungry people, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates.

France fights back

France’s 66 million people waste about 95–115kg of food per capita each year, according to the FAO. As in the U.S., food waste in France occurs throughout every stage of the supply chain, from production point to distributor to consumer. However, earlier this year, the European Union member nation took steps to curtail supermarket food waste.

France became the first country in the world to pass a law prohibiting grocery stores larger than 4,300 square feet from throwing away food. Instead, the new law requires supermarkets to donate food to charities and food banks which, in turn, are required to safely handle and store the food, and distribute it fairly and with dignity to people in need. To ensure this happens, stores will be required to sign donation deals with specific charities.

Prior to the law, French food banks received about 35,000 tons of food from supermarket donations, the Guardian reports. Jacques Bailet, head of the Banques Alimentaires network of French food banks told the Guardian that increasing supermarket food donations by just 15 percent would allow food banks to provide 10 million more meals to people in need.

Crossing the ocean

More than ever, the world is truly becoming a global community and economy. Cultural, social and political developments that first occur on one continent soon find their way across oceans to transform countries on the other side of the world. With growing awareness in the U.S. about the urgent need to reduce food waste, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think laws similar to the one in France could take root here.

As is often the case with social or economic issues, governments step in with regulations intended to help resolve problems. It often pays for businesses to be proactive. In this case, taking steps to reduce food waste in your organization prior to the arrival of legislation could put you ahead of competition in many ways.

The role of RPCs

While France’s law may be a good first step toward whittling away at food waste and hunger in that country, it addresses just one area of the supply chain where waste occurs. Globally, about 500 million tons of wastage occur in the agricultural production phase, and about 350 million tons during the post-harvest handling and storage phase. Processing and distribution phases account for just under 200 million tons each. Waste spikes again to around 350 million tons in the consumption phase.

Reducing food waste at the consumption phase will require a long-term investment of time from multiple groups in order to educate consumers on how they can throw away less food. Likewise, reducing production-phase food waste will require the development and broader adoption of more efficient agricultural practices. However, reducing food waste at the processing and distribution phases is something your grocery operation can do right away, and reusable plastic containers (RPCs) can help.

RPCs have a proven track record of helping reduce waste throughout the supply chain. Transporting perishables such as produce, meat and eggs in RPCs ensures product arrives at distribution centers and stores in the same condition it was packed. Less shrink means less food wasted.

What’s more, RPCs can help supermarkets overcome one of the leading causes of waste at the consumption point. Consumers want food that looks good, such as produce free of bruises and eggs free of cracks. RPCs not only protect food in transit, when used for displays, they can help reduce handling-related damage.

We have a long way to go before we achieve a waste-free world, but laws like France’s — and the adoption of better packaging like RPCs — are steps in the right direction.