Food waste in EU, common measurement method coming soon


Food waste, how much and where? In the EU they are ‘estimated’ to affect about 20 percent of the food produced each year, based, however, on incomplete data. The European Commission, by delegated act 13.5.19, has defined a common measurement criterion to be followed by member states. To ensure effective monitoring of food waste levels at every stage of the supply chain and thus work toward their reduction.

Food waste in EU, uncertainty prevails

The European Union produces more than 88 million tons of ‘food waste’ on an annual basis-about 20 percent of production equal to 173 kilograms per capita, which generate costs estimated at more than 143 billion euros. According to the latest available data, collected in fall 2014. (1) The top producers of food waste were found to be households (47 ± 4 mln tons) and industry (17 ± 13 mln tons), accounting for a combined 72 percent of the total. The remaining 28 percent was attributed to catering (11 mln tons, 12 percent), primary production (9 mln tons, 10 percent), and wholesale and retail distribution (5 mln tons, 5 percent). (1) Globally, several studies show that between 1/3 and 1/2 of the world’s food production is not consumed. (2)

Food waste: fractions of ‘food and inedible parts of food removed from the food chain’ to be recovered or disposed of (including composted, ploughed/unharvested crops, anaerobic digestion, bioenergy production, cogeneration, incineration, disposal in sewers, landfill or dumped into the sea).’

The research published in 2016 on behalf of the Commission-as part of the 7th Research Framework Program-is based on variously aggregated data from Eurostat and OECD, as well as data provided by member states. And yet, according to the same authors, it maintains ‘moderately high uncertainty in estimating food waste quantities,’ with a margin of error estimated at ± 14 million tons (or ± 16 percent). That is, the weighted result (88 mln tons) could range from 74 to 101 mln tons.

The researchers therefore recommended the adoption of common definitions and methods so that member states can regularly measure waste, identify critical areas and share findings. And indeed, this is the starting point for defining the most appropriate actions to be taken to mitigate the phenomenon.

Waste prevention and circular economy

Prevention of food waste has been identified as one of the priority areas of the Circular Economy Action Plan, Circular Economy Action Plan, adopted by the Commission in December 2015.(3) Food waste is also one of the top ten indicators del Circular Economy Monitoring Framework, which indicates the level of progress in the transition from linear flow ‘make-use-dispose‘ to circularity, which tends to minimize the loss of resources.

Food waste is a disgrace to a society that stubbornly claims to be ‘civilized’. And yet tolerates that 1 in 7 individuals suffer chronic hunger and malnutrition. An ethical, economic and environmental problem. Reducing food loss and waste, in the logic of theSustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in UN Agenda 2030, therefore means:

recover food to distribute to the needy through food banks, such as the
Food Bank. In Europe alone 43 million people cannot eat a nutritious meal even every other day, 15 million suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies,

Contribute to the fight against climate change. Food waste, according to calculations based on albeit approximate data, is estimated to generate about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions,

Save money and resources. Farmers, processors and distributors/suppliers, consumers. Everyone has a role and responsibility, but also an advantage in reducing waste. This applies to food as well as to containers and contact materials. A concept ‘obvious’ only in words, given the still demented use of single-use items in public establishments, plastic cups in primis.

Reducing production-before consumption-of what is not strictly essential is the first categorical imperative. And it must be approached with a systems approach, as shown by the recent scientific study ‘Food wastage. Systemic approach and structural preventiontaken up by ISPRA in its recent technical report.

Common measurement method, the EU proposal

The European Commission’s Delegated Decision ‘on supplementing Directive 2008/98/EC with regard to a common methodology and minimum quality requirements for the uniform measurement of food waste levels‘, adopted on 3.5.17, is now being considered by Parliament and Council for possible amendments. (4)

The Commission’s proposed method involves collecting data on waste and analyzing its causes separately at each stage of the agribusiness chain. Primary agricultural production, processing, distribution in its various forms, restaurants and food service, and consumption. Without devoting special consideration, however, to the import, storage and logistics phases (which should therefore be brought back to the relevant compartments, in the above outline). (5)

The classification of food waste follows the criteria already adopted in appropriate regulations to which explicit reference is made (in Annex II). It also specifies the criteria to be adopted for estimating waste- to be measured in tons of fresh mass- net of food packaging. Member states are obliged to carry out monitoring-as set out in Annexes III and IV-by submitting annual reports to Brussels (Article 2). Provision is also made for the adoption, on a voluntary basis, of additional criteria for the collection of more detailed qualitative data (Article 3).

Measuring waste at every stage of the supply chain is in fact the basis for working to reduce it, with a view to achieving the appropriate Sustainable Development Goal in UN Agenda 2030. Target 12.3 in particular aims to halve per capita food waste, at the retail and final consumption level, by 2030.

Dario Dongo


(1) See FUSION report (Reducing food waste through social innovation), 7′ EU Research Framework Program, 3/31/16, ISBN 978-91-88319-01-2, phocadownload/Publications/ %20waste%.pdf

(2) Gustavsson et al (2011). Bio Intelligence Service, 2010 data

(3) Within the context of the Circular Economy Action Plan is, among other things, the ‘circular economy package‘ adopted in April 2018. For an overview of EU initiatives on this issue, see environment/circular-economy/ index_en.htm

(4) ‘European Commission Delegated Decision on supplementing Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards a common methodology and minimum quality requirements for the uniform measurement of levels of food waste’, transparency/regdoc/rep/3/ 2019/EN/C-2019-3211-F1-EN- MAIN-PART-1.PDF

(5) See document cited in note 4, recital 5


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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.