This appendix focuses on the defining and estimating food loss and food waste. After laying out the basics of the various definitions and the challenges and efforts to standardize those terms, the rest of the appendix presents an overview of methods to estimate food loss and food waste and examples of programs to reduce food loss and food waste. In addition, the appendix includes selected resources and efforst by stakeholders in the United States. The appendix focuses primarily on consumer-level food waste.
ESTIMATING FOOD LOSS AND FOOD WASTE
The definition of “food” is key to most definitions of food loss and food waste. It is common for “food intended for human consumption” to be used to differentiate between food materials included and excluded. Food materials grown for nonfood uses (e.g., ethanol production or animal feed) and inedible parts of plants (e.g., corn stalks) are excluded. There is a differentiation between “associated inedible parts,” which tend to be harvested alongside the edible parts (e.g., corn husks), and “inedible parts,” which are unlikely to be harvested (e.g., corn stalks). Other unintended or unmarketable parts of plants (e.g., small ears of corn) or loss from natural causes are sometimes included (Spang et al., 2019).
After the definition of food is determined, there are three major differences that delineate the definition of food loss and food waste: (1) stages
of the supply chain included (e.g., on-farm losses are sometimes excluded); (2) inclusion or exclusion of associated edible parts (e.g., the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] excludes associated inedible parts while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] includes them); and (3) end-of-life/discard destinations included (e.g., sometimes only landfill/incineration is considered food waste) (Spang et al., 2019). The many definitions and terms for food loss and food waste (Roodhuyzen et al., 2017) make comparisons between studies difficult (Bellemare et al., 2017; Östergren et al., 2014; Spang et al., 2019). To reduce this difficulty, an international accounting and reporting standard was created to standardize reporting, and it requires a clear description of the boundaries of quantification (Hanson et al., 2016). Additionally, FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies), a project of the European Union, released a definitional framework, clearly defining suggested boundaries for food loss and food waste (Östergren et al., 2014).
Sometimes “food loss” and “food waste” are distinguished from each other, although there are multiple ways in which they have been defined: (1) food loss as occurring upstream in the food supply chain and food waste as occurring at retail and consumer levels; (2) food waste as a subset of food loss; or (3) food loss as involuntary and food waste as voluntary. There are also other less common differentiations, such as wasted food (edible) and food scraps (inedible) or edible and inedible. Edibility (and avoidability), however, is not a fixed characteristic of food, but is based on biological/physical, social, cultural, and technological factors. Another term that is found in the literature, ingestibility (or digestibility), is not appropriate because many things are ingestible, for example lemon rind, but have unpleasant taste or texture or can become ingestible with enough processing (Gillick and Quested, 2018; Nicholes et al., 2019). Distinguishing between edible and associated inedible parts is important because it is generally acknowledged that these parts have different underlying reasons for being discarded; food waste prevention programs tend to focus on the avoidable or edible fraction of food waste while the inedible parts are targeted for composting or other valuable disposal streams. Another term, rescuable, refers to whether a food was safe to eat at the time of discard (e.g., moldy lasagna is considered edible but not rescuable).
Overview of Methods to Estimate Food Loss and Food Waste
Measurement and quantification are used to establish baselines, estimate impacts, identify areas for intervention or “hot spots,” and track progress over time. Quantification and measurement of food loss and waste has greatly increased in the last decade (Xue et al., 2017).
The different purposes of measurement may require different levels of granularity or accuracy. The most common metric, expressed in total volume or as proportion, is mass (weight) although volume, monetary value, or cost and nutritional value (e.g., calories) are also used. The impacts of food loss and waste that are commonly explored are water use, energy use, influence on nutrient cycling, pollution and toxic material production, biodiversity loss, and land use change.
Given the recent proliferation of food waste estimates, there has been a call for standardization in quantification to enable comparison and track progress toward global, national, and regional goals (Xue et al., 2017), and multiple organizations have published guidances (Hanson et al., 2016; Quested, 2019; Tostivint et al., 2016). Notably, the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard was developed by an international group of experts and provides guidance on quantification, including a template to clearly define the boundaries of quantification (Hanson et al., 2016).
Despite the proliferation of estimates of food loss and waste at national and subnational levels, as well as for various stages along the food supply chain, there are major limitations in the current data. According to Xue et al. (2017) over half of the studies they reviewed were based on secondary data, signaling high uncertainties. In addition to the lack of primary data, outdated data are also frequently used. As mentioned above on definitions, significant variation in system boundaries and methodologies for quantification make comparisons and verification difficult (Hanson et al., 2016; Spang et al., 2019; Xue et al., 2017). Xue et al. (2017) suggest addressing this issue by creating a database that uses a common reporting framework to improve consistency and comparison.
Broadly, quantification methods at the consumer level are categorized into those that directly measure discarded food and those that quantify other metrics (e.g., total food production or food consumption) to estimate the amount of food waste (see Table C-1). Common direct methods are waste composition analyses, weighing studies, diaries, surveys (e.g., Stefan et al., 2013; Visschers et al., 2016), and records (e.g., waste bills). Common indirect methods are food balance models and use of proxy data as commonly used methods (Moreno et al., 2020; Roodhuyzen et al., 2017; Xue et al., 2017).
Many of these methods have differences in the information they provide (e.g., ability to provide granular data, drivers), representativeness of the data (e.g., communities, states, households), or whether they are self-reported data. Self-reported data from diaries, surveys, and some records (e.g., waste bills) are often subject to more bias associated with gaining a representative sample (e.g., bias in participation), accurate reporting (e.g., lapses in memory or intentional omissions), and changes in behavior as a result of
|Method||Description||Information||Consumer Level||Accuracy, Objectivity, and Reliability|
|Weighing||Scales; used in food service settings||Less able to provide granular data; objective||Populations||High|
|Diaries||Daily records; used for households and commercial kitchens||Better able to provide granular data, with added information about drivers; self-reported but likely more accurate than surveys||Individuals||Medium|
|Surveys||Questionnaires; used for households||Better able to provide granular data, with added information about drivers; self-reported||Individuals||Medium|
|Records (e.g., waste bills)||Nonfood waste-related data; used for households a well as retail and manufacturing businesses||Less able to provide granular data; self-reported when measuring it at household level||Individuals and populations||Medium|
|Observation||Visual estimation or counting the number of items wasted||Less able to provide granular data; estimaed||Populations||Low|
|Modeling||Using mathematical models||Less able to provide granular data||Populations||Low accuracy and reliability; medium objectivity|
|Method||Description||Information||Consumer Level||Accuracy, Objectivity, and Reliability|
|Food Balance Models||Using a food balance sheet or human metabolism based on inputs, outputs, and stocks along the food supply chain||Less able to provide granular data||Populations||Medium accuracy and reliability; high objectivity|
|Proxy Data||Using data from companies or statistical agencies; for scaling data to produce aggregated estimates||Less able to provide granular data||Populations||Medium accuracy and reliability; high objectivity|
reporting the data. However, some data are hard to obtain without self-reporting (e.g., information on drain disposal of food waste). Certain types of self-reported data (e.g., weighing or a kitchen diary) are considered more accurate than others, such as surveys, which ask people to recall how much food they wasted in the previous day or week or estimate how much they waste “on average.” Diaries and photo journals have been found to underestimate household-level food waste (van Herpen et al., 2019), but surveys and recalls are less accurate than diaries (Thompson and Subar, 2001).
The review by Xue et al. (2017) found that less than 20 percent of the studies used first-hand data. Although direct measurements have problems with achieving a representative sample, indirect measurements lack granularity. The authors argue that that no single measurement methodology is good enough and suggest the use of a statistics-based estimation of food loss and waste coupled with first-hand measured data to corroborate findings (Xue et al., 2017).
SAMPLES OF U.S. GUIDELINES AND INITIATIVES TO REDUCE FOOD WASTE AT THE CONSUMER LEVEL
Despite the challenges in measuring food waste, there is a general consensus that food waste is a growing concern, and many efforts have been undertaken by a wide variety of stakeholder groups to reduce it at the consumer level. Table C-2 provides a sampling of guidelines and toolkits
|Food Waste Reduction Guidelines at Home||FUSIONS||School children and their families; preschool educators; kindergarten food service employees||Practical information about food waste, ways to maintain and store food, leftover recipes, and tips for efficient food purchases|
|Refresh Community of Experts||Refresh, European Union||All stakeholders||Website that shares and collects information and best practices on food waste prevention|
|What You Can Do To Help Prevent Wasted Food||USDA||School staff; parents; Students||Tips with links to related resources on how to reduce, recover, and recycle food|
|Tackling Food Waste in Cities: A Policy and Program Toolkit||NRDC||City policy makers and agency staff||Strategies with detailed actions for what cities can do to rethink, reduce, rescue, and recycle food waste|
|Guide to Conducting Student Food Waste Audits||USDA, EPA, and University of Arkansas||Students; school staff||Information and why and how to conduct a food waste audit. Ideas for preventing food waste in schools|
|Fighting Food Waste in Hotels||WWF and the American Hotel and Lodging Association||Hospitality industry||Toolkit with information, tools, and resources to help hotel industry prevent, donate, and divert wasted food at their properties|
|Food Waste Warrior Toolkit||WWF||Students; Teachers||Website with lesson plans, resources, and activities|
|Wasting Less Food in K–12 Settings: Best Practices for Success||NRDC||K–12 schools||Practical steps to reduce wasted foods in school cafeterias and kitchens|
|Food: Too Good to Waste (FTGTW). Implementation Guide and Toolkit||EPA||Local governments; community organizations||The implementation guide shows how to implement FTGTW using the toolkit the toolkit covers behavior change and outreach for individuals and households using community-based social marketing principles|
|Food Promotions Guidance for Manufacturers and Food Promotions Guidance for Retailers||WRAP||Food manufacturers and retailers||Guidance for developing food promotions that do not contribute to increased food waste in the grocery sector|
|Your Business Is Food, Don’t Throw it Away||WRAP||Hospitality and food service||Toolkit for creating a food waste reduction action plan|
|Toolkit. Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint||FAO||Households; producers; government; food industry||Provides examples of good practices for reducing food waste; also identifies food waste information sources and guidelines|
|Best Practices and Emerging Solutions Toolkit||FWRA||Retailers and food manufacturers||Provides basic steps to reducing food waste while also raising the profile of the issue of food waste to a broader audience.|
|Keeping Food Out of the Landfill: Policy Ideas for States and Localities||Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic||State and local governments||Toolkit describes policy areas that governments can examine as methods to reduce food waste and details the relevant federal laws|
|Bans and Beyond: Designing and Implementing Organic Waste Bans and Mandatory Organics Recycling Laws||Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic||State and local governments; regulators; advocates||Toolkit is a resource for policy solutions to reduce food waste; examines policies and programs to incentivize waste reduction|
|Toolkit for Food Waste-Free Events||The Rockefeller Foundation||Businesses; hospitality industry; food service industry; community organizations; educators; consumers; governments||Toolkit of best practices and strategies for reducing food waste at events (festivals, fairs, conferences, sports events, etc.)|
NOTES: EPA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; FAO, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization; FUSIONS, Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies; FWRA, Food Waste Reduction Alliance; NRDC, Natural Resources Defense Council; WRAP, Waste and Resources Action Programme; WWF, World Wildlife Fund.
that have been developed worldwide. The different products are tailored to the target many audiences, including households, policy makers, educators, hospitality industry, retailers, and community organizers.
In the United States, governments at all levels have initiatied a number of programs to help reduce food waste. Box C-1 provides examples of federal programs. The committee did not carry out a systematic identification of state and local initiatives, but received briefings on them; examples are shown in Box C-2.
Specific examples of food waste reduction activites that are currently in use by various stakeholder groups are shown in Table C-3. For example, some food service operators have switched to trayless dining or smaller portion sizes. Food retailers are trying to reduce food waste by removing “buy one get one free offers” and technology companies are testing apps with reminders to eat purchased food before it expires.
|Organization Type||Reduction Activity|
|Food Service Company||
|Innovator in Food Packaging and Technology||
|Organization Type||Reduction Activity|
|Federal, State, and Local Government Agencies||
SOURCES: Data from U.S. Department of Agiculture Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions; ReFED; Further with Food.
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