28th Feb 2024

EU proposes legal targets to cut food waste

  • In 2020, an average of 131kg of food waste was generated per person (Photo: Stephen Rees)
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With concerns over food security, inflation and the environmental impact of food waste becoming increasingly evident, the European Commission has proposed legally-binding targets to reduce food waste across the EU.

Under a recent strategy, presented early in July, member states will have to reduce food waste by 10 percent in processing and manufacturing and by 30 percent per capita (for restaurants, food services and households).

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EU countries already have in place waste prevention programmes, but the EU Commission has acknowledged that reductions have not been big enough so far.

The total food waste measured across the EU in 2020 amounted to 59 million tonnes of fresh mass — equivalent to about 250,000 blue whales, the largest animals on earth.

This figure also corresponds to 131kg of food waste per inhabitant annually.

Food waste levels measured in 2020 will serve as the starting point for the commission's monitoring of EU-wide targets — although the EU executive is also expected to review progress made by member states on the targets by the end of 2027.

Households produce more than half of the total food waste in the EU — followed by the processing and manufacturing sector.

Reducing food waste in households would have a significant impact not only on the environment but also on families' budgets. When food is wasted, other resources are also lost — including water, energy, and agricultural inputs, which contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions in landfills.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups have argued that the targets are not aligned with the UN sustainability goals. Brussels-based NGO Zero Waste Europe has asked for an increase, to at least 50 percent food-redaction target during the intra-institutional negotiations.

UN sustainable goals (target 12.3) call to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level as well as reduce food losses along the supply chain by 2030.

Varying ambitions

In the EU, Germany, France and Italy have the highest rates of food waste.

But when looking at food waste per capita, France and Germany have rates similar to the EU average of 131kg per capita.

Meanwhile, smaller countries such as Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, and Portugal generate more than 200kg per resident.

While all EU countries have committed to halving food waste in line with UN sustainability targets, the EU Commission research unit admits that the level of ambition, implementation of measures, and the results obtained appear to vary significantly between member states.

Only the Netherlands, Germany and France have in place policies based on targets, including actions to address specific hotspots, according to a report published by the EU Commission research unit.

Most EU countries have policies with "limited/partial evidence of monitoring and evaluation" or national actions only at an early stage.

For example, action plans in Cyprus, Malta, Poland and Romania have been implemented only recently and there are few results available.

Over time, EU countries have adopted varied policies and non-legislative approaches to reduce food loss and waste. For example, 17 member states use financial instruments like VAT exemptions for donated food and economic support to promote food waste prevention.

Meanwhile, food and food services production in the EU27 is expected to rise by approximately 11 percent between 2020 and 2030 — which could lead to an increase in food waste if no action is taken.

Overall, it is estimated that up to 50 percent (or 1.2-2bn tonnes) of food globally produced ends up in waste, according to a 2013 report.


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