Food waste includes that which is thrown away and edible food items lost as part of the production and processing stages (HLPE, 2014, p.11). Globally this accounts for 1.3bn tonnes, or a third of all food produced, with economic, environmental and social implications (Gustavsson et al., 2011, p.4). The majority of food’s environmental impact and energy input occurs during production, which makes the issue food waste more prevalent as the loss occurs after the majority of the environmental damage and resource consumption (water, fertiliser, land use) has already occurred.
Food wastage prevention strategies prioritise reducing the amount of food produced (to prevent over-supply), reusing food for human consumption (food banks, redistribution and repurposing), using the food for animal consumption, and finally recycling, which in the case of food involves composting or anaerobic digestion (Mourad, 2016, p.461). Food waste has an environmental impact in terms of wasted resources and unnecessary release of greenhouse gases (during production and landfill), economic impact from losses and lack of return on investments, and limitations on social equity and progression (HLPE, 2014, p.12). Businesses seen to be reducing waste are seen by consumers as making a more valuable contribution to sustainability, which positively contributes to their reputation (Baldwin, 2015, p.10). Consumer behaviours and attitudes also play a significant role.
Culture, socio-economic status and attitudes towards food are related to food waste: people waste more when food is a smaller proportion of income, usually associated with those in the developed world where the food system is more industrialised and proportionally cheaper; cultures, such as France, who place a greater emphasis on what food parts are edible and what is discarded waste less than countries such as the US which places less value on food; the less role a person has played in the production of the food consumed, the more likely they are to waste; and finally, increases in portion size are also linked to increases in food waste, not to mention obesity (Thyberg and Tonjes, 2016, p.115, 117 and 118). In the UK food service sector, it is estimated that food waste costs £2.5bn a year, of which 75% was edible and only 12% was recycled (WRAP, 2013, p.3).