2021 UN Food Waste Index report findings: The Share of Food Waste at the Consumer Level Doubles From Previous Estimates
An International Comparison – Food Waste and Policies for its Reduction
In March 2021, The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published its Food Waste Index Report 2021 (54). Its findings show that the UN’s previous estimate of food waste in the consumption sector (household and institutional) fell considerably short. According to the new findings, the extent of global food waste is approximately 1.7 billion tons annually, 30% more than the previous estimate of 1.3 billion tons, or one-third of all food produced worldwide.
This was the first time that the UN updated its decade-old estimate regarding the volume of food waste globally.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food waste as: a “reduction in the quantity or nutritional value of edible portions of food intended for human consumption along the food production value chain.”
The World Food Waste Index (55) was designed to support the UN Sustainable Development Goal: “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food waste along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.” This indicator complements the food waste goal published by the FAO, which relates to food waste in the agricultural, sorting, packaging, and industrial processing sectors.
Food Loss and Waste per Capita: International Comparison kg/year
The new report encompasses 84 studies about food loss and waste from many countries. Of these reports, 52% were academic, 33% were conducted by government institutions, 10% by nonprofit organizations, and 6% by other agencies. Regarding Israel, the UN report quotes and relies on the Food Waste and Rescue in Israel Report prepared and published by Leket Israel, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and BDO.
The findings of the UN report, as reflected in the graph above, reveal that per capita food waste in the household sector in Israel is similar to that in the United States and less than in Africa. However, it is also evident that per capita food waste in the household sector in Israel is higher than in Europe.
There are several possible explanations for this. Firstly, Israeli households tend to consist of a larger number of people. Research on food waste in Israeli households (56), conducted by Professor Ofira Ayalon, Professor Efrat Elimelech and Dr. Eyal Ert, shows that the larger the household, the more food it wastes. Their research also found that households waste less food when waste separation is done at home, which is generally not practiced in Israel unlike other countries.
It must be noted that the UN report itself does not provide any explanation for the variations in per capita food waste in different countries.
The UN has defined dealing with food waste as a key issue for promoting sustainability and reducing food insecurity around the world. In its new report, the UN determined that some opportunities for reducing food waste were not utilized because previous estimates of international food waste were unreliable. Therefore, the UN report concludes that countries around the world must measure and monitor food waste in their territory while promoting effective policies for dealing with the problem.
In Israel, where expenditure on food is a significant portion of a household’s expenses, coupled with the high cost of living in Israel, it is especially challenging and highlights the importance of dealing with the issue of food loss and waste.
Moreover, discarding or destroying food that still has alternative economic value is evidence of a market failure that requires supportive government policy to facilitate more effective utilization of the resource.
Against this background, it is worth our while to examine the leading policy tools being used to reduce food waste rates in countries around the world.
Considering the increase in international recognition of the global food waste problem, the United Nations FAO and UNEP have been working to promote complementary international indices for estimating the amount of food waste worldwide. These indices were intended to create uniformity, help establish baselines for food waste, and assist countries in developing policies to reduce waste and monitor their progress. Indeed, a variety of policy tools are being used around the world, to reduce the amount of food waste by decreasing the amount of surplus food, increasing food rescue, and/or encouraging the use of composting and anaerobic digestion instead of landfill.
Work is being done around the world to make data and policy more accessible, thereby encouraging efforts to reduce food waste. For example, the EU Food waste and Waste Prevention Hub (FLWPH) conducts surveys and shares its findings on relevant policies and legislation in European countries. Moreover, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) (58) together with the Global Food Banking Network (GFN) (59) launched the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas in February 2019. Conducting comparative legal research in dozens of countries around the world, their goal is to map the global food donation policy landscape and promote best practices for food rescue and food waste mitigation.
- Identifying and making accessible legislation related to food rescue and donation in an increasing number of countries;
- Analyzing the most common obstacles to food rescue and donation in these countries;
- Sharing best practices in order to overcome these obstacles whilst providing technical assistance for policy implementation in certain partner countries
Best practices according to the Atlas and the European Union
- Specifies the responsibility of food donors and organizations distributing surplus food, including designating the Food Safety and Standards Authority as the guiding authority.
- Defines requirements for labeling donated food.
- Creates an obligation to record and monitor food surpluses.
- Section 11 of the law regulates the use of leftover food.
- Section 159 exempts non-profit food distribution organizations from needing licenses for manufacturing, transporting, and storing food.
- Section 162 permits food distribution organizations to use food that has passed its best before date if it is a type of food safe to consume after this date, and if they have received written authorization from the manufacturer confirming this.
- Federal protection from civil and criminal liability for food donors and non-profit organizations that distribute donated food, subject to certain conditions (that the food was donated in good faith to an organization that distributes food to needy people, at no charge, and meets safety standards).
- Some states grant broader protections for more kinds of donations: Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island and Tennessee protect direct donations to people experiencing food insecurity; Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee explicitly allow post-date donations.
- In 2021, an amendment was submitted to both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which would expand the feasibility of food donations across the US. The amendment would allow direct donations to individuals, e.g., from grocery stores, school cafeterias, etc. but is yet to be approved.
- Regulations that define two options for date labels on food products: one based on food safety (“use by”) and one based on food quality (“best by”). Only in rare instances when consuming food after a specific period becomes dangerous as the food poses a safety hazard would the first label be used. Otherwise, the food would have a quality-based label.
- Legislation that explicitly allows donating food after the quality-based date has passed, although not for safety-based dates.
- Launch a campaign to educate consumers about the meaning of date labels in order to prevent confusion regarding expiration dates and reduce needless food waste.
- In accordance with recommendations from the UN Codex Alimentarius, Great Britain adopted a policy that divides foods into two groups and defines a safety-based label (“use by”) or quality based (“best before”) for each product (64).
- This policy explicitly forbids sale or donation of food after a safety date (“use by”) but explicitly permits sale or donation of food after a quality date (“best before”).
- The British government, in cooperation with the organization WRAP (65), has launched several campaigns to educate the public about strategies for reducing food waste, including the significance of product dates.
- There are two types of expiry dates in use, “use by” and “best before” that relate to food safety and food quality, respectively.
- The law states that food may not be sold/donated after its expiration date (regardless of whether it is marked by a safety or quality date).
- However, section 12 of the Public Health Protection Law permits using food after this date, in certain situations.
- Section 162 of the same law discusses the feasibility of NPOs distributing food that has passed its expiration date.
- In 2017, the standard for labeling packaged food in Israel was re-examined. The Ministries of Environmental Protection and Economy proposed updates to the language, in order to reduce food waste and raise public awareness of the different labels. The updates included the comparison of products currently exempt from being labeled with an expiration date to those exempt by the European Directive, as well as the consideration of expiration dates consisting of only a month and a year, or even just a year, depending on the safety of consuming the product after its expiration date, and finally the promotion of a public information campaign explaining the labels and their use. Some of the proposed updates were approved, but in practice, a manufacturer can mark a full expiration date on any product and there has been no change in customary labels.
- Tax incentives create an economically competitive alternative to discarding edible food.
- An exemption from Value Added Tax on food donated to food banks as a way for removing potential obstacles.
- Tax incentives for businesses in order to encourage the donation of surplus food.
- The law permits double tax credits for food donations:
1. General tax deduction equal to the cost of acquiring the food (67);
2. Increased tax deduction as an additional incentive, allows the food donor to deduct either (a) twice the cost of purchasing the food that was donated or (b) the cost of the food that was donated plus half of the profit expected from selling the food if it had been sold at fair market value. This deduction can reach twice the general deduction, with a business being entitled to deduct up to 15% of its taxable income for food donations (68).
- The Combating Food Waste Law 2016 (69)
requires large supermarket chains (stores with an area in excess of 400 square meters) to donate surplus food to food banks rather than discarding or destroying it. Chains that violate the law are liable to a fine ranging from €3750 to €75,000.
- There was an increase of 20% in food donations from supermarket chains following the enactment of this law (70).
- The Egalim Law (71) enacted in 2019 expanded the obligation to large catering establishments (those serving more than 3000 meals/day), food manufacturers and large wholesalers (those with a turnover of more than €50 million).
- In California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont there are laws that ban disposing of food waste in landfill.
- In 2012, Vermont enacted a Universal Recycling Law (72) that prohibits disposing of food waste in landfill. The law called for gradual implementation, concluding with complete implementation by 2020, for both businesses and residents. According to the Vermont Food Bank, this law led to an increase in food donations worth approximately $40 million.
- In Massachusetts, businesses that create more than one ton of food waste/per week are forbidden to dispose of food waste in landfill (73). Research conducted in 2016 found that this ban yielded economic activity worth $175 million and created more than 900 jobs with companies transporting food, rehabilitation organizations and other employers.
- Establishes two tariffs for disposing of waste in landfill: the standard fee is currently ₤98.6/ton; and a lower rate of ₤3.15/ton for waste that is less likely to produce greenhouse gases and pollution (containing a low percentage of organic matter, not recyclable and not including hazardous substances, etc.).
- The graduated fee is intended to decrease the amount of food disposed of in landfill according to the hierarchy of food usage.
- There has been a fee for landfill disposal of waste since 2007 (75). Provisions of this law require that landfill operators pay for each ton of waste sent to landfill. The price of landfill disposal (76) in Israel is lower than both – the world average, and relative to other treatment types. The disposal fee in Israel applies to all types of waste and there is no incentive for not disposing of organic waste in landfills.
- There is a voluntary mechanism that permits municipalities and local authorities to charge businesses a specific fee for collecting surplus commercial waste (77). Criteria for the fee collection and amount is still not regulated.
- The Federal Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) allocates $100 million and $500 million dollars each year for administrative support and food rescue, respectively, by local organizations.
- The Federal grant program also supports food banks and food rescue efforts.
- Several individual states also allocate funds to purchasing food for emergencies.
Israel adopted the UN Sustainability goals, including a target for reducing food waste, in 2015.
An official national goal for food loss reduction has not been established.
- Set a goal of reducing food loss by 50% by 2030
- In order to do this, a comprehensive feasibility study on halving food loss by 2030 was conducted. This research found that the goal could be accomplished in seven years, if the following conditions are met:
1. Significant investment in innovation
2. Offering incentives
3. Adopting strict regulation
4. Promoting voluntary commitments to reduce food loss
5. Involvement of the food industry and civil society
- Accordingly, the National Food Loss Strategy was written and published by the Australian Department of Agriculture Water and Energy (DAWE) focusing on four areas: promoting supportive policy, improving performance in the private sector, market development and behavioral change.
- The supportive policy focuses on four areas:
1. Creating a national baseline for food loss and a methodology for measuring its reduction.
2. Identifying relevant fields for focused investment.
3. Promoting voluntary commitments to reduce food loss.
4. Promoting legislation supporting food loss and food rescue.
- To date, progress towards these goals is yet to be measured.
Israel has yet to develop comprehensive national strategy for reducing food loss. However, in October 2021, the government approved a 100-Step Climate Action Plan, which includes a chapter dealing with food systems.
The Waste Management Policy published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in January 2021 includes sections related to reducing food loss at the early stages of production, as well as food waste occuring at later stages of production and distribution. The Ministry of Environmental Protection is currently developing a plan for implementing this strategy.
Among the countries surveyed, it was found that 89% regulate the expiration dates printed on food products; 78% offer tax incentives for food donations and have a national food loss and waste reduction strategy; 72% have established a food loss reduction goal for 2030; 67% require that businesses donate food and/or tax discarding food waste; 61% offer government grants for food donations; 56% of the countries have food safety procedures for donations and 44% offer protection from legal liability for food donations. By implementing varied policy tools for reducing food loss and waste, Great Britain has reported a 27% decrease in food loss per capita (after the agricultural stage) from 2007 (the baseline year) to 2018. By 2019, Holland had recorded a 29% reduction of food waste in the consumer stage, compared to 2010. The European Commission is expected to publish interim reports for all European nations later this year.
A study conducted in 2020 by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, which was commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, examines the influence of national regulatory measures in Europe on the reduction of food loss.
The researchers found that among the policy tools surveyed above, financial tools have the widest influence on reducing food loss and waste. Taxation for landfill disposal of organic loss has the greatest impact, followed by an exemption from Value Added Tax on food donations to food banks, as a means for removing obstacles to potential donations.
Although the issue of food loss and waste has received attention in Israel during recent years with the enactment of the Food Donation Law in 2018, the lack of an expedient government policy to encourage the reduction of food waste and increase food rescue means that Israel remains far from realizing its potential to reduce inequality and food insecurity among its population.
Summary of Central Policy Tools for Food Loss and Waste Reduction and the Encouragement of Food Rescue, in Selected Countries
Developments in Israel: Government Action on Food Waste and Loss
- In October 2021, the government approved a 100-Step Climate Action Plan, which includes a chapter dealing with food systems.
- In accordance with this plan, for the last year, the Ministry has led an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Preparing Food Systems for Climate Change. The committee includes representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development, Health, Intelligence, and Education, as well as the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). The committee’s objective is to develop targets and a medium-range action plan (through to 2030) to prepare food systems in the State of Israel for climate change, incorporating measures for both adaptation and mitigation, i.e., reducing GHG emissions. The committee’s work is being done by subject-oriented working groups, including one focused on reducing food waste.
- The Ministry led the State of Israel’s preparations for the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021. The purpose of the summit was to advance sustainable, healthy, egalitarian food systems, in accordance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In relation to this, the Ministry conducted wide-ranging dialogue with other government ministries, civil society organizations, academia, farmers, and other key actors in the food industry.
- The Waste Management Policy published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in January 2021 includes sections related to reducing food loss at the early stages of production, as well as food waste occuring at later stages of production and distribution.
- In November 2020, the Ministry began publishing, together with Leket Israel, the Food Waste and Rescue in Israel Report, which includes a chapter on the environmental impact.
Under the initiative, benefit cards worth NIS 500 were distributed to approximately 11,000 families suffering from severe food insecurity. The pilot program was launched in February 2017 in 36 municipalities around the country, at a total cost of approximately NIS 65 million annually. Families accepted into the program, were issued a monthly card loaded with NIS 500, by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs via Eshel Jerusalem-Colel Chabad. The card could be used for purchasing food products worth NIS 250 (not including tobacco and alcohol) in select supermarkets and local stores. The remaining NIS 250 was for buying rescued vegetables, fruit, and dry foods, which were delivered to the families’ homes (NIS 180 for fruit and vegetables and NIS 70 for dry foods).
In May 2021, a new tender for operating the National Food Security Initiative was issued, after several changes were introduced. The number of people participating in the initiative increased to approximately 26,000 families, who now receive a benefit card worth NIS 350, and a home delivery of fruits and vegetables worth NIS 150.