Identifying the need for a more cohesive communication channel within the food chain numerous applications like Flashfood, OLIO, Goodr etc. have emerged, providing a platform for connecting producers to consumers, retailers to charities and facilitating food sharing amongst consumers to help reduce food waste. Companies not a part of the traditional food chain have been coming up with innovative approaches to solve the food waste problem, like Winnow’s use of Artificial Intelligence to study and help optimise restaurant service to reduce food waste by 40-70% within 6-12 months are also finding great acceptance in the food industry (Bozhinova, 2018). Promising breakthroughs in active and intelligent packaging research has retailers looking to these to prolong shelf life and reduce food waste (Verghese et al., 2013).
The policies adopted by national governments championing food waste reduction have been varied both in terms of their scope and strategies. In Australia they largely focus on consumer education initiatives and emphasise voluntary actions on part of industries, the lack of regulatory action and significant funding at the federal level could serve as the major obstacle in achieving the target of halving food waste by 2030. Governments have also broadcasted documentaries on food waste like “Wasted – The story of food waste” by Special Broadcasting Service, and “Just eat it” by Knowledge Network both aimed at making food waste more visible and starting a discussion about food waste (SBS, 2019). The Love Food Hate Waste initiative in the United Kingdom as part of the Waste and Resources Action Programme also focuses on raising awareness about food waste by including it in the school curriculum, providing tools and training to restaurants and food outlets in reducing food waste, has reported to prevent 137,000 tonnes of food wastage and reducing household waste generation by 21% (Macdiarmid et al., 2016). Despite similar regulatory framework as Australia, greater investment in waste reduction measures and the more proactive stance of industries has seen UK achieve better results (Sleet, 2019).
More radical regulatory approaches have also been applied like France’s law banning supermarkets disposal of food waste in landfills, which saw a 30% surge in food donations but the presence of a loophole regarding no specified minimum donation limits, even 1% food donation ensures compliance which defeats the spirit of the law (Mourad & Finn, 2019). A similar South Korean law, banning food waste disposal in landfills actually saw a 6% increase in food waste generation attributed to their rising income levels (Parfitt et al., 2010). Urban waste treatment collection and treatment initiatives by government has been increasing but their success depends on their being backed by legislation, capital investment for infrastructure and technological innovation. However it is important to ensure that greater focus remains on preventative measures and one should not become heavily dependent on them for eliminating avoidable food waste (Alexander et al., 2013).When food waste disposal becomes a profitable venture and industries come up as a response to managing this waste it can trigger and drive a greater continued waste generation to ensure profits for these companies with no incentive for any waste reduction (Alexander et al., 2013). Current policies and practices fail to take a systems approach while attempting to tackle food waste, it is important to acknowledge the drivers of overproduction, with waste prevention does not waste disposal being the priority. That is the only way to conserve natural resources and minimise environmental externalities along the food supply chain (Mourad & Finn, 2019).
Foodbanks and food rescue organizations have come up in response to finding a more equitable way to use what retailers perceive to be food waste, their action helps give value to food that otherwise would have been lost. ‘Feed America’ in the US and ‘European federation of foodbanks’ in the European Union provides for 37 million and 5.2 million people respectively (Timmermans et al., 2014).While donating to food banks allows for rescue of quality food, it shifts the focus away from the systemic issues within the food supply chain and the unfair procurement policies of the supermarkets which promote excessive production and consumption in the first place (Devine & Richards, 2018). When Food rescue organizations become the primary entities combating food insecurity it reduces the scrutiny on the ineffectiveness of government policies and strategies that have been in place to combat the systemic issues that result in the inaccessibility of food for a large section of the society (Macdiarmid et al., 2016).
The needs and the wants of the consumers drive the food industry, and once awareness increases with their immense power, they can impact the actions of retailers. Food waste by consumers which forms the bulk of food wastage in developed countries is often attributed to lack of planning prior to purchasing leading to overprovisioning. This can also be driven by cultural norms or stemming from an intrinsic need to be a good provider (Schanes et al., 2018). Aside from the innate behavioural motivations others factors also contribute to overprovisioning. Comprehensive labels with variety of date tags like “minimum durability”, “use by” and “sell by”, often put on products as a way to protect retailers and manufacturers from potential liabilities, (Parfitt et al., 2010), end up confusing shoppers who in an attempt to ensure safety pick the freshest variant in the supermarket and throw out perfectly edible products at home, hence increasing food waste (Gille, 2012). Some manufacturers like Calbee have come up with cleaner labels stating “best before month” instead of a specific date while others like Kewpie and Kikkoman have come up with innovations that allow them to increase the shelf life of their products that include mayonnaise and soy sauce, and Mizkan is selling snacks made from vegetable peels redefining what constitutes as inedible food components, all potentially reducing food waste to allow for Japanese industries to meet the national 20% food waste reduction goal by 2030 (Minai and Obayashi, 2019). With discarding of foods past their best-by date a common practice in Nordic supermarkets, government mandate to reduce food waste had industries delving into research involving optimal cold chain temperatures and modelling to see the effectiveness of increased shelf life for waste reduction, which predicted reduction rates of 970,000 across the supply chain (Moller, 2016). Increasing shelf life while promoting cleaner labels with clearer distinction between quality-based and safety-based date labels is hence required to reduce food waste (Timmermans et al., 2014). Sometimes people tend to under report their household waste, composting and other recycling methods while motivated by good intentions can sometimes be tied to increased waste generation not prevention, by way of mitigating guilt related to unsustainable consumption practices (Schanes et al., 2018).
Love Food Hate Waste initiative originally started in the UK which has been taken up by some Australian states too, aims to reduce household food waste by raising consumer awareness about the economic and environmental impacts, they also provides recipes that can be made from leftover or stale food or zero waste recipes that make use parts of the produce that is usually discarded, discourage excess buying, provide storage tips etc (Roser & Ritchie, 2019). Similar information is also provided by retailers like Coles, Woolworths, Aldi etc on their sites. Government interventions as previously mentioned usually take the form of campaigns targeted at consumers and are sometimes through to solely blame them for the food waste problem instead of putting responsibility on all the key members in the food supply chain. A rising dissatisfaction with the governmental and institutional insufficiencies in addressing core issues has given rise to freeganism and dumpster diving which involves salvaging food from commercial dumpsters and can be motivated by political activism or driven by food insecurity. Freeganism advocates for more sustainable consumption with reduced environmental impact, while also aiming to highlight the social inequalities that result in food insecurity (Papargyropoulou et al., 2014).Consistent overconsumption is also defined by some as food wastage, with the average calorie intake in affluent countries in the EU, Oceania and North America in well excess of 3100kcal/day, leading to increasing rates of nutritional related health problems (Roser & Ritchie, 2019). While more efficient production in developing countries can lower food prices making it more accessible, they may follow the higher food wastage trends and health problems as seen in the developed nations. In Iran subsidising of bread lead to greater waste at consumption level, hence production efficiency, retail accountability and consumer awareness all need to be addressed to have a lasting impact on the problem of food waste and food security (Timmermans et al., 2014).
Rising levels of food waste highlight a systemic issue in the food supply chain, with all the key players producers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers, playing a part in driving the irresponsible production and consumption practices. The major contributors of food wastage differ across the global north and south, their discarding practices have great environmental and economic impact, while also undermining the food security of millions of people around the world. In recent years spurred by the intense media scrutiny, rising advocacy by NGOs, political activists and the general public both retailers and governments have come up with measures and policies to tackle the problem of food waste. Retailers often face criticism for achieving their zero waste targets at the cost of the other actors in the supply chain with their contractual agreements and instore practices. Governmental regulations relating to food waste tend to focus on consumer awareness and voluntary commitments from industry, stricter regulations where they exist have often been criticised for their limited scope deemed inadequate to address the underlying issues of disparity that the high level of food waste is indicative of. Both governmental and industry efforts have been focused on more effective food waste utilization, donating to food banks and use of technology to give greater value to food waste, but these quick fixes obscure what should be the most important goal, prevention of food waste and fixing the flaws inherent to the system. Public engagement is pivotal to help reduce food waste, raising consumer awareness not only helps reduce food waste at home, but can often lead to building pressure on the other members in the supply chain forcing them to amend their policies to achieve significant waste reduction. It is essential to take a systems approach when dealing with food waste, only an intervention that takes into purview the entirety of the food chain will show promising results.