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Green Deal Projects Support Office

Food waste represents a global challenge that has far-reaching implications. It is a multifaceted problem that occurs at all stages of the supply chain, from production to consumption. While food loss is the bigger category that incorporates any edible food that remains unconsumed at any stage (in homes, stores, transportation, in the field, etc..), food waste refers to food discarded by retailers due to colour or appearance, and plate waste (edible portions of food served that is uneaten) by consumers . Addressing this issue is not only essential for ensuring food security but also for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) and mitigating climate change. Reducing food waste is paramount for several compelling reasons:

  • Resource efficiency: The food production process consumes vast amounts of finite resources, including water, energy, and land. When food is wasted, these resources are squandered, exacerbating environmental pressures and reducing overall resource efficiency.
  • Cost savings: Food waste represents a significant economic loss for both producers and consumers. By cutting down on waste, producers can reduce their costs, and consumers can save money on food purchase bills.
  • Environmental impact: Food waste occurs throughout the supply chain and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, not only during their production, transport and storage, but also in the methane released when they decompose in landfills. By minimising food waste, we can reduce these emissions and mitigate their climate change effects.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the global fight to tackle food waste has only just begun, requiring collaborative efforts to address this pressing issue. UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report from 2021 indicates that people globally waste 1 billion tonnes of food each year, meaning that one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted. Approximately 36.2 million EU citizens cannot afford a quality meal every second day according to the EUROSTAT (2020) Income and living conditions database, while food waste represents a significant market value loss, estimated at €130 billion annually in the EU.

EU's commitment and legislative landscape

The European Union (EU) has embraced the challenge of reducing food waste, aligning its efforts with SDG 12.3 (food loss & waste), which aims to halve per capita food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030. 

The Farm to Fork Strategy, a central component of the European Green Deal, that aims to transform the EU into a sustainable and climate-neutral economy, plays a pivotal role in preventing food waste. By transitioning to a sustainable food system, the EU aims to promote responsible consumption, reduce waste, and promote resource efficiency. The strategy recognises the integral role of food loss and waste reduction and explores ways to integrate food loss and waste prevention in other EU policies.

To achieve these objectives, the European Commission has proposed a series of actions that encompass various stages of the supply chain, and will continue to do so:

  • On 5 July 2023, the Commission has proposed a targeted amendment of the Waste Framework Directive, introducing new requirements related to food and textile waste, which establish a clear framework for waste reduction efforts .
  • Still this year, the Commission is expected to revise the EU rules on date marking such as 'use by' and 'best before' dates to minimise unnecessarily discarding perfectly edible food.
  • In 2016, the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste was established. It provides recommendations for preventing waste, and which the European Commission encourages all Member States to implement.

Innovative projects leading the way: food waste prevention, reduction, and valorisation

In the quest to combat food waste and promote a sustainable food system, several innovative projects have emerged within the European Union, funded by the Green Deal Call. Below we take a closer look at three of these projects and how they focus on different aspects of the food supply chain and the waste hierarchy, tackling food waste prevention, reduction, and valorisation. While food prevention focuses on avoiding surplus food generation throughout food production & consumption, reducing food waste means also reducing the resources we use to produce the food, and it is through the valorisation processes that food waste can be transformed into a range of added-value products.

1. Agro2Circular: preventing food waste through circular practices
Agro2Circular logo
Agro2Circular  takes an innovative approach to food waste prevention by upcycling agri-food wastes from the fruit and vegetable (F&V) sector, and multilayer plastic films (MPFs) from items such as plastic food bags and frozen food bags, thereby addressing inefficiencies and losses at the agricultural and primary production stages. 

Seeking to address the lack of a value chain for the reuse of plastic waste and multilayer films of fruits and vegetables, the projects introduced the upcycling of the recycled MPF, through biotransformation and extensional flow mix. Recycling of MPF is a novel combination of sorting, physical delamination, enzymatic depolymerisation, decontamination and mechanical recycling. The whole process and the resulting products will be traceable through an innovative information and communications technology (ICT) platform that functions as a predictive tool for supporting decision-making (DIS – data integration system). Through the adoption of precision agriculture techniques, smart technologies, and data-driven decision-making, Agro2Circular helps farmers improve the way they manage their resources, leading to the prevention of food waste before it even enters the supply chain.

The project also emphasises the reduction of food waste through the involvement of the local community in their selective collection of agri-food waste, thereby demonstrating the deployment of the circular economy within specific areas and regions. This activity consists of the periodic collection of fruit and vegetable waste, which are deposited in separate containers. These are subsequently transported to the National Technological Center for Canning, where the active ingredients are extracted for use in nutritional formulas, cosmetics, food or other products with higher added value. The aim of this is to promote the acceptance of circular economy practices in local communities, through information and awareness-raising with citizens, in addition to waste collection.

2. SISTERS: Reducing food waste through a holistic approach

The SISTERS project focuses on reducing food loss and waste in the main stages of the Food Value Chain in Europe through innovations targeted at each stage of the chain (production, logistics, processing, marketing and consumption). The project introduces new digital tools for primary producers to promote direct and short-chain sales that entail selling fresh fruits and vegetables directly to consumers; new technological innovations in packaging for processors and retailers; and awareness campaigns for retailers and consumers on food loss and waste. By aligning production and distribution with actual demand, and optimising the supply chain, SISTERS reduces the likelihood of excess products becoming food waste.

Moreover, the project works towards a labelling scheme for consumers to help them make an informed decision regarding food loss & waste. This contributes to their objective of “evaluating the effect on consumer acceptability of different materials in eco-friendly packs for food and of different labelling schemes”. Innovation at the marketing stage includes the creation of a “Seal of Excellence” for wholesalers/retailers that correctly apply sustainable practices. 

The project consortium also coordinates with the European Commission to develop a combined action plan on European food loss and waste to provide conclusions to relevant decision-makers.

“Reducing waste in the food system is one of the most impactful solutions we have for combatting climate change”, says the project expert, Dr. Carolina Peñalva Lapuente. “From our work throughout the value chain, we´ve found that there is room for improvement in the current practices and that can lead to a significant decrease in food waste along the food supply chain. The implementation of new practices that lead to this decrease will require the combined efforts from various stakeholders including producers, retailers, consumers and governments.

3. ZeroW: Systemic innovations towards a Zero Food Waste supply chain
ZeroW project logo

ZeroW is a project that brings systemic innovations to achieve zero food waste. It is implemented in collaboration with 46 partner organisations from 17 countries. Through 9 systemic innovation living labs, ZeroW aims to deliver ambitious reductions in food waste at all stages of the food supply chain, from pre-harvest to consumption. By involving all actors in the food system in a collaborative framework, the project aims to accelerate the just transition to a social, economic and environmentally sustainable food system for all.

ZeroW pioneers the prevention and reduction of food loss and waste (FLW) by developing innovative data-driven processes and solutions. These include among others: an open, data-driven platform for capturing FLW-related data throughout the supply chain on the local level; a software platform for industry food processing lines optimisation; novel remote sensing solutions enabling accurate crop monitoring, fruit ripeness assessment, and yield estimation; a multi-sensor platform for identifying ugly food, capable of processing 300 000 pieces of fruit per hour.

ZeroW innovates also in the area of sustainable and smart packaging. It is developing a new product providing visual information to retailers and consumers about the actual state of the packaged food’s freshness. 

In addition to preventing food waste, ZeroW also focuses on converting it into valuable resources. For example, the project is developing a solution to convert food waste into microalgae feed, which has great potential for use in cosmetic formulations due to its valuable bioactive compounds. The project is also exploring viable business models for valorising FLW through a mobile food processing platform as a service. 

In this way, ZeroW contributes to reducing the environmental impact of food waste disposal while simultaneously ensuring the economic feasibility of the valorisation process. The project showcases how circular economy principles can be applied to food waste, transforming it into useful materials and products, and thus closing the loop in the food supply chain.

"Food waste is a complex problem that requires a systemic approach that involves everyone - from farmers to retailers to consumers, politicians and academy, to prevent food from being wasted at every stage of the food supply chain. Only by working together holistically, we can achieve our goal of zero food loss and waste and build a more sustainable food system for all." 
Anna George, ICP, Coordinator of ZeroW project.

Looking forward

Beyond the three projects spotlighted above, there are others funded by the Green Deal that tackle various aspects of food waste: 

  • SchoolFood4Change develops innovative solutions and locally adaptable good practices for schools, ultimately aiming to achieve the ambitious goal of enabling community-wide food system change; 
  • ENOUGH seeks to achieve net zero emissions in all stages of the food supply chain and to advance decarbonisation strategies in the European food industry; 
  • EcoeFISHent deploys sustainable and efficient use of fish-processing side streams by obtaining bio-actives and galantine for high-value-added food supplements and skin care products.

As seen above, tackling food waste is a critical endeavour with far-reaching implications for resource efficiency, cost savings, and environmental sustainability. The EU's commitment to SDG 12.3 and the Farm to Fork Strategy underscores its dedication to addressing this challenge. Through concrete legislative actions and support for innovative projects that contribute to environmental policy objectives, the EU is paving the way for a more sustainable and resilient food system. Agro2Circular, SISTERS, and ZEROW exemplify necessary multifaceted approaches to food waste prevention, reduction, and valorisation. Through the application of advanced technologies, data-driven decision-making, and circular economy principles, these projects contribute to a more sustainable and resource-efficient food system within the European Union. By addressing different stages of the supply chain and finding creative solutions to the challenges of food waste, they offer valuable insights for shaping a future where food waste is minimised, resources are optimised, and environmental impact is reduced.

For more information on the Green Deal projects focused on reducing food waste, visit the Food and Health Working Group page

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