Roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption globally each year is wasted. Every year, consumers in the rich world bin a quantity equivalent to the entire food production of Sub-Saharan Africa. Rather than producing more food to feed a growing population, many analysts argue that the solution is to use the food production we already have.

We had a comment sent in from Taylor, who blamed “shops and supermarkets” for throwing away “tonnes of perfectly good food for landfill while people are starving on the streets”. As a solution, Taylor suggested it would be better if supermarkets were obliged to donate food to the poor instead of throwing it away. Would that work?

Now, Europeans are not literally “starving on the streets”. The United Nations World Food Programme estimates 98 per cent of the world’s hungry live in developing countries (and, in fact, 65 per cent live in just seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia). Nevertheless, Eurostat indicates that food poverty (defined as the inability to afford a regular quality meal every second day) affected 8.6% of Europeans in 2015.

Isn’t it obscene to be wasting so much food while people are going hungry? Are supermarkets to blame, or are consumers the bigger problem? To get a response, we spoke to Toine Timmermans, Program Manager of Sustainable Food Chains at Wageningen University & Research Centre.

timmermansTaylor poses a very relevant question. Of course, supermarkets are at the centre of attention when it comes to food waste. If you look at the facts, however, retailers are by far the most efficient in the food chain. Meaning they have the lowest percentage of waste of all the different stakeholders in the supply chain, from producers to consumers. But because they are so visible, and because they are so important within the food chain, it’s a question often raised to them.

Basically, we looked at the figures across Europe, and 5% of total food waste occurs within the direct influence of a retailer. In total, in the EU-28, 88 million tonnes of food are wasted annually, and about 50% of that occurs in the home with the consumer. Taking that into account, the amount of food wasted by retailers is still incredibly high, and 80% of that is because the sell-by-date, best-before-date, or use-by-date has been passed. And there are no supermarkets that will sell expired food, even after the best-before-date. Technically, legally, they could do it – but they don’t.

The best option for retailers, then, is to donate products. It tends to be that most retailers only donate products that haven’t made it to shelves, that could not be distributed from their distribution centres to the stores. We see a trend, especially in the UK but also in other countries, that more and more products that cannot be sold are being donated to schemes such as food banks. But still, there is a lot of food that is not being sold or donated that will go to waste…

How can we stop Europeans throwing out so much food? Why do consumers throw so much food into the bin? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – StefanSzczelkun

68 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Andrej Němec

    Educational campaigns to raise awareness of the problem.
    Collection centres for unwanted food.
    Distribution of about-to-expire food to homeless people.

  2. avatar
    Noia Blackcat

    showing them how many other people would be able to eat with the stuff they throw away… maybe even in the stores where they buy it with chefs, or big cardboards or with ads… it wouldn’t be so great for the big food industries on the other hand so it could result hard to do for real.

  3. avatar
    Fran Vončina

    free market free market free market free market free market. nobody’s goal is to spend more money. nothing to “care” and “worry” about here.

    • avatar
      Nefeli Kousi

      I thought this is an “answer” section of a “debating” website. Insulting and threatening are not acceptable answers in this context. Please try to find a better way to express your opinion and contribute to the conversation. Maybe citing some articles about how producers are forced to throw away food would help? Some statistics?

  4. avatar
    James McManama

    Free market? The free market is notoriously bad at long-term planning (that’s kind of the point). There’s nothing to stop the free market driving the environment off a cliff (a market can’t be self-correcting if all the consumers and producers have been poisoned). So, a mixed approach is needed, with sensible, proportionate government regulation (not an oxymoron) as a necessary evil.

    • avatar
      Nefeli Kousi

      Totally agree. The French goverment took a big step by forcing the retailers to donate the food.
      But in my opinion it is only a first step. Education and culture should teach us to not throw food. We are after all half of the problem.

    • avatar

      Let’s not compare ourselves to the worst :))

  5. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    prima del mercato, che ha bisogno dell’intervento dello Stato per regolarlo,il mercato da solo è business non tiene conto dell’ambiente , della salute e del benessere del cittadino, solo lo Stato CHE FA LO STATO ,senza esautorarlo ,può garantire il rispetto dell’ambiente e della salute senza business, almeno nelle necessità primarie , bisogna chiedersi come mai ci sta gente che muore di fame ? La causa della fame è lo Stato che non fa lo Stato dunque il libero mercato non regolamentato crea fame e ingiustizia sociale, sprechi a gogò di alcuni ceti e fame dall’altra parte , un pò come succede negli Usa e in Inghilterra e adesso da noi perchè ci viene imposto quel modello , un modello che andrebbe rivisto almeno per noi, loro facciano quello che vogliono

  6. avatar
    Dan Florin

    Produce better quality food, let go the “E” s and all the chemicals, stop the stress and give people better life.

    • avatar
      Nefeli Kousi

      How exactly do the preservatives help us to not throw so much food away? Taking them out would only limit the shelf life of food.
      How is stress a primer factor?

  7. avatar
    Vytautas Vėžys

    I bought food. I can eat it, I can throw it away, I can do whatever I want with it, cause I paid for production and delivery for me.
    Not my problem that someone is starving. Like EU parliaments waste money on trips around the world while I don’t even have money to vent to vacation. Do they give a duck? No.
    People are selfish bastards and you can’t to anything about it.

  8. avatar
    Valentin Rotaru

    Stop producing so much shitty food in Brussels and we’re ok, no one is throwing food away in Spain, Italy, Romania, Greece, Germany or France, Ukraine, Bulgaria etc

  9. avatar
    George Yiannitsiotis

    It seems odd the EU to care for not throwing out (to the garbage) so much food when the same EU (then EEC) had been paying the Greek farmers to throw to the garbage their produce when it overflown the EEC quotas back in the 1980s. Need mentioning that this surplus came as a result of entering the EEC/EU in Jan-1981. Before 1981, all those agrarian products were exported to third countries (esp. eastern Europe, USSR, Middle East) via clearing agreements.

    As a result, the Greek agrarian produce fell sharply and the agrarian population pushed their children to the cities, away from a sector worthless to deal with (who wants to produce in order to throw his effort to the garbage?). One of the root causes of the current Greek crisis lies in that disastrous EEC policy: to pay the producers in order to throw to the garbage the food they produced back in the 1980s!!

    • avatar
      Nefeli Kousi

      One would find more important reasons for the Greek crisis but this point is valid. How can we limit waste AND satisfy quotas at the same time?

      But one more question arrise for me: Is this system still in practice?

    • avatar
      George Yiannitsiotis

      Έξις δευτέρα φύσις (custom/habbit becomes inherent to one’s behaviour). Throwing food production to the garbage was a practice sponsored by the EEC back in the 1980s. It became obsolete in the 1990s since most of the farmers deserted their farmland; as a result, production dropped and Greece became a net food importer in the 21st century (before entering the EEC/EU in 1981 Greece was net food exporter). A whole generation of Greeks from the coutryside arose in an affluent environment where wasting became a habbit via EEC/EU sponsoring. Now, the same EU that sponsored that affluent waste, “cares for the people throwing away so much food” (sic) !!!!!

      Quotas shall be abolished! Surplus food production shall be exported to third countries (like Russia, China etc) without penalty.

    • avatar
      Nefeli Kousi

      Solution to over-consumerism: “Make everyone miserable.”

      I would say it might be better to: “Teach everyone to be responcible.”

    • avatar
      George Yiannitsiotis

      Anyway: the IMF-ECB-EU gang will make all Europeans miserable should it continues its aggressive, inhumane, usurers policy against them!

  10. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    This question is too vague and leads to no solution.
    But the problem is very simple.
    There is plenty of data that tells us where, what and who. There is data that tells us how much is wasted by each of these. With that you simply make plans, laws and directives to address the issue in a very pointed way.
    One can start here:
    Here is more data:
    And more:
    With this data you can then address the question again.

  11. avatar

    This question is too vague and leads to no solution.
    But the problem is very simple.
    There is plenty of data that tells us where, what and who. There is data that tells us how much is wasted by each of these. With that you simply make plans, laws and directives to address the issue in a very pointed way.
    One can star here:…/jan/10/half-world-food-waste

  12. avatar
    Dóris Cavalcanti

    Rather than producing more food to feed a growing population, it would be more responsible and effective to stop people having so many children like in Africa which is projected by UN to have the population to grow more than double until 2050, it means Africa alone will be responsible for 54% of the population growth in the planet, 82% until 20100!!! Sterilization is the only solution to taxpayers not being enslaved support africans and to preserve the environment.

    Until UN-EU-USA decide to be realistic-honest-responsible and take serious measures about Africa, it’s MY money which pays for MY food which I eat or throw away as it pleases ME!

  13. avatar
    Andrew Jones

    Stop so many ready meals and pay the farmers a proper amount then charge the people proper amounts. If it costs nothing then people will think nothing of it

  14. avatar
    Yulia Amariei

    By mainstream education and changing advertising paradigm.
    Also; If agreements/regulations could be passed through to provide missleading information about products to be consumed, EU can honestly inform the people about the composition, destination groep, etc. etc. … and the necesity to understand waste! MORAL (by 3xample) mainstream education! Really not that difficult! Also encouraging people to buy fresh and without packaging…supporting local farmers to invest is such fresh packageless products. Providing a second life to products and educating owners thereabout…

  15. avatar

    Of topic!
    Has anyone heard of TISA ? Its a really bad trade deal that will affect us all and its coming fast! Forget TTIP this ones even worse.

    • avatar

      Totally agree. Although it’s mass slaughtering of animals to be more precise.

  16. avatar
    Omid Danesh Khorak

    The municiplity (and their garbage collecting services) should add new YELLOW bag ORGANIC garbage collecting services in cities. People throw their kitchen food prepration and left-over in Organic Yellow Bucket. These new bucket have an electric connection and keep organic garbages cool (with a detachable washable plastic pot inside). Bla bla bla …

  17. avatar

    Remove “Agriculture for profit” concept from Europe. Self-sustainability is the key.

  18. avatar
    Paulo Lisboa

    My parents teached me it is disrespectful to wast food, the foof on the dish is to eat till the end, the wast is not a option. Everyboy must follow this rule.

  19. avatar

    It all should start from within. Each of us individually needs a global self-awareness and responsibility for our own consumption; self analysis in terms of how much we consume and how much do we actually need to live the life and be fulfilled. Thereby we can reduce the demand, production and waste.

  20. avatar
    catherine benning

    Demand the supermarkets give their food away to the food banks and the poor when it is unsold…. It’s a beginning.

    Demand that European farmers are the primary source of our food and only import that we cannot grow within our borders and make sure those who import have kept to our regulations on additives, chemicals and so on. And that all food must be labelled with its content and origin clearly for the consumer to read without glasses.

    Throw out TTIP.

  21. avatar
    steven geohegan

    Another beginning would be to start a regional agricultural research initiative on the effects of pesticides on the agricultural microbiome. If a consortium were formed to map the microbiome of the most common vegetables/fruits etc. and supermarkets were given a small incentive to turn over their food for research, we may be able to quickly map the microbiome of different foods and how they are affected by different pesticides. That would then lead to the use of moving out the pesticides and “farming healthy microbiota to control disease” which could be done on-site at the farms, reducing their costs (for petrochemical pesticides) and producing healthier food that doesn’t taste like pesticide residue. The farming community would be pulled into sustainable farming, reduced costs and using over-production as “microbiota substrate”. The coordinating body would of this entire effort would be food banks/microbiome research which would distribute a large amount of this “free research material” to food banks. It is a complicated solution but it is “rewiring” the industrial food machine…….

  22. avatar
    David Briggs

    This is the classic area where ‘choice’ creates the problem. For some reason we have allowed ourselves to accept as normal a choice of virtually every fruit and vegetable known to mankind to be presented on the supermarket shelves every day of the year. We don’t need a choice of 16 types of orange or 12 types of green bean, most of which are transported half way across the globe to satisfy this peculiar ‘need’. Quite apart from the poor nutritional value of most of this excess, the environmental consequences we create (and accept) suggest that we have been in the process of going increasingly crazy for decades.

  23. avatar

    Corporate greed supported by the greed of the government many of you voted in to power, makes this debate pointless. It will never be in our control, even if we did give a sh_t.

  24. avatar
    Philip M.

    Hi. Well, we could ask the trees to stop growing fruit? No, we can’t do that. I guess we could ask importers to stop importing so much but then, before food is thrown away it isn’t waste, is it. We could force supermarkets to stop throwing away so much food and share it out in the community – well, technically they can’t, because of health and safety, and so, the…EU…would have to do a little adjusting of its own rules. What supermarkets could do is be obliged to sell more food very cheaply, which they do already, in part, as an automatic signal to the poor and local charities to buy the food up. Restaurants also, waste a huge amount of food, but can’t move on the situation because of health and safety food regulations. This is about as much as could be done without demanding that supermarkets buy in bulk based on very strict estimated consumption figures that might risk the cost of food increasing.

    In Europe, the statistics showing poverty being mainly in developing countries doesn’t really represent much, to be honest. There is also, in Europe as well as developing countries, the wealth divide, and that is very real all over the world.

  25. avatar
    Carlos Santos

    Educating the consumer is a long and gruesome task, but it has to be made.

    Campaigns against domestical food waste are essential to fight the 50% of food waste indicated by Timmermans, as well as fighting the stigma against ‘ugly’ foods. Farmers throw away approximately 70% of their crops due to the requirements of the market – requirements of the consumer – related to the image of the food.

    Parties/events held by supermarket chains with spare food for homeless, people in difficulties. A win-win situation as it would raise popularity on the organizer.

    Restaurants making ‘last deals of the day’, resulting in less food waste.

    Moreover, regulations could take place in order to prevent this phenomenon. France was the first country in the world to forbid foodwaste in supermarkets, by donating their near-expired products to charity.

    Many initiatives can be carried out with no difficulty and with possible gains. We just need to think.

  26. avatar
    Tomas Mzr

    This is not EU or authorities problem that people throwing away food they paid for. If somebody would like to buy some stuff and he just throw it away this is his decisions and his money. Stop telling ppl how they suppose to live. This is why I despise social-liberals and this entire Union – you would like to force other ppl to live according to your ideology. Brexit is coming and in 5 – 6 years Central Europe exit.

  27. avatar
    Patricia Smith

    only buy what you need; use past sell buy date if still fresh; luckily retired so can shop as needed rather than a big weekly/longer interval shop; buy local produce wherever possible;

  28. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    In some areas in the UK food waste had to be separate from refuse. If you combine that practice with worm composting, food waste can be turned into fertiliser. For supermarkets they could additionally donate food or sell it at a huge discount.

  29. avatar
    Paulo Lisboa

    Do not waste food in your own meals! Simple!

  30. avatar
    Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

    It’s another matter of education, old people can’t change their habits but young people must learn the right thing from early age from school in order to become better than their parents

  31. avatar
    Любомир Иванчев

    Stimulate with tax reduction the businesses in the food distribution industry to donate goods for charity. Giants like Lidl and Kaufland could easily create a monthly “food stipend” fund to supply small portions of food each month to public hospitals, orphanages and old people’s homes and both make it easier on their budgets AND increase the quality of life for their residents.

  32. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    Lack of ethics and actions of governments globally, wealth inequality and exploitation of the poor by corporations is the reason for poverty and starvation in other countries. Supermarkets coukd donate food and produce and also make use of worm composting for the inedible. Yes ugly produce can be allowed in. Address poverty at its root.

  33. avatar
    Peter Ponte

    We can already start with the promotion of composting any `throw away food` instead of mixing it with general trash.

  34. avatar
    José Bessa da Silva

    Start by ending the EU. I live in a fruit producing region, Central Portugal, we mainly produce apples, pears, plums and blueberries, in addition we also produce cabbadges, pumpkins and potatos. Half of what is produced is directly left in the field because it is too small or too big. After that a huge portion is thrown out amond the one picked because their skin is ugly. It is a wast of perfectly edible fruits and vegetables due to EU rules. End the EU, end with this madness.

  35. avatar
    Petar Shumanov

    Morning all. The laws in France are a step in the right direction. A practical solution building on them will be to force the food producers to put an earlier expire date for intact food, time calculated to take the food from the shelf, when needed to repack it and time to be delivered to communities in need. Depending on the art of food, there should be a scale, measuring this “gratis” period. Why? On that way, the chains after the producer have to take the food not to the garbage on the day, when its wrecked, but will have “enough” time to prepare it for re-usage. For example: Rice package, what is good til 09.201* should be taken from the shelf a month earlier, transport to re-usage Depot in a week, relabeled, ready for dispatch in a day or two, and send to the hot spot. These kind of Depots should be from now on located over borders and over national territories, but at least continental logistically accurate (Union established or by licensing its up to the path of us). Have a nice day :)

  36. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    A new food Class with imperfect fruit and veg at a cheap price for the EU and instead of throwing the rest send it to countries that need it via a charity specifically created for it.

    • avatar
      Bódis Kata

      The production cost is the same, the sales cost is the same, the revenues will be lower… Not much of a chance for regular shops to do that without special incentive.

    • avatar
      Julia Hadjikyriacou

      All the EU has to do is create a regulation. And the incentive is kindness, caring and compassion for our fellow humans.

  37. avatar

    We can’t stop anything!
    We can encourage people, we can educate them, we can make it easy for them to recycle, we can do all sorts of constructive initiatives. THAT we can do.

  38. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    We can’t stop anything!
    We can encourage people, we can educate them, we can make it easy for them to recycle, we can do all sorts of constructive initiatives.
    THAT we can do.
    And EDUCATION is where it all should start!

  39. avatar
    zahraa khalil

    we need to stop mass producing meat and dairy products because this is whats causing our earths greenhouse gasses.we need to change and its selfish how i to fear one for my kids and grand kids because no one else will give up steak and ice cream,and then people get angry on how NFL players kneel for a better country yet no one cares to change.

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