Global standard will facilitate management of food loss and waste

Thursday, 20 October, 2016

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Every year Australians scrape $10 billion off their plates into the garbage, according to the RaboDirect ‘Food & Farming Financial Health Barometer’ report. How does this compare to the rest of the world? An interesting question that would once have been impossible to answer because until recently there was no globally agreed standard on how to measure food loss and waste (FLW).

It is estimated that one-third of all food is lost or wasted worldwide as it moves from where it is produced to where it is eaten — costing up to $940 billion per year. This lost or wasted food translates into about a quarter of all water used by agriculture and requires cropland equivalent to an area the size of China.

Compounding this loss is the effect on global greenhouse gas emissions — with about 8% of these emissions estimated to arise from FLW. To put this into perspective: if FLW was a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter — only beaten by China and the United States.

International momentum to curb food loss and waste is growing with governments and businesses making commitments to address this issue. However, most do not know how much food is lost or wasted or where it occurs within their borders, operations or supply chains. Moreover, the definition of food loss and waste varies widely, and without a consistent accounting and reporting framework it is almost impossible to compare data and develop effective strategies.

Many countries, cities, companies and other entities currently lack sufficient insight into how much, why and where food and/or associated inedible parts are removed from the food supply chain. This makes it difficult to develop strategies and prioritise actions to prevent FLW, and to identify the most productive use of the FLW that does arise. In short, it is challenging to manage what you do not measure. Moreover, what’s considered “food loss and waste” varies widely and, without a consistent set of definitions or an accounting and reporting framework, it is difficult to compare data within or among entities over time and draw useful conclusions.

Last June a partnership of leading international organisations launched the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard — the first-ever set of global definitions and reporting requirements for companies, countries and others to consistently and credibly measure, report on and manage food loss and waste.

The purpose of the FLW Standard is to facilitate the quantification of FLW (what to measure and how to measure it) and encourage consistency and transparency of the reported data. The standard enables the consistent quantification of baselines and tracking of progress towards Target 12.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as other targets.

Using the terminology and requirements provided by the standard will ensure international consistency, enable comprehensiveness and support transparent disclosure of FLW inventories both within and among entities. Quantifying FLW is an important foundation for reduction efforts that can deliver a diverse array of benefits — from reducing costs associated with over-purchase and disposal, to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions or supporting efforts to eliminate hunger.

“This standard is a real breakthrough. For the first time, armed with the standard, countries and companies will be able to quantify how much food is lost and wasted, where it occurs and report on it in a highly credible and consistent manner,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute. “There’s simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted. Now, we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources and ensure more people get the food they need.”

The standard is designed to be practical so that entities of all kinds can develop an FLW inventory based on their particular quantification goals. Entities that prepare inventories in conformance with the FLW Standard will be better informed about how much FLW is generated and where it ends up, and therefore better equipped to take action.

Creating inventories in conformance with the FLW Standard will provide a critical foundation to develop effective strategies for reducing food loss and waste and monitor progress over time. Moreover, it can help governments and companies meet international commitments, including the Paris Agreement on climate change and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, SDG Target 12.3 calls for a 50% global reduction in food waste by 2030, along with reductions in food loss.

This standard addresses these challenges by providing accounting and reporting requirements that can be used consistently by entities around the world. It also includes universally applicable definitions for describing the components of “food loss and waste” included in an inventory.

The FLW Standard will also help reduce food loss and waste within the private sector. In 2015, The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, adopted a resolution for its members to reduce food waste from their operations by 50% by 2025, with baselines and progress to be measured using the FLW Standard. Some leading companies, like Nestlé and Tesco, are already measuring and publicly reporting on their food loss and waste.

The Food Loss and Waste Protocol is a multi-stakeholder partnership convened by World Resources Institute and initiated at the 3GF 2013 Summit. FLW Protocol partners include: The Consumer Goods Forum, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), EU-funded FUSIONS project, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) and World Resources Institute.

The Food Loss and Waste Protocol can be found at

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