Methodology for measuring food waste: what is the EU added value?

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Around 88 million tons of food are wasted annually in the European Union (EU), representing an amount of 143 billion euros.[1] As an economic, social, environmental and even ethical concern, food waste is part of the Circular Economy Action Plan put forward by the European Commission (EC) in 2015. This plan includes the development by the EC of an EU common methodology to measure food waste in the EU. This methodology has been published and is expected to be adopted this spring. The EC considers that the appropriate measurement of food waste is necessary for a better understanding of the issue and for a coordinated European action leading to the setting of quantitative reduction targets at European level.

As indicated in the European Parliament (EP) 2017 report on the efficient use of resources, food waste in the EU amounts to 173 kg per person on average, 88 million tons in total.[2] For MEP Biljana Borzan, "Wasted or lost food means wasted water, farmland, hours of work, energy, and other precious and often limited resources."[3]

Food waste occurs throughout the entire agri-food chain: on farms, fishing vessels, processing plants, canteens, restaurants, grocery stores and, of course, households. The latter are even the biggest waste makers, with 53% of the total estimated quantity for the EU.[4] At the same time, around 6 million adults live in a situation of food insecurity in Europe alone.[5]

Food overproduction and the abundance of food in places of consumption lead to excessive food purchases as some of which end up in the trash. The omnipresence of food coupled with the small share of food in the total expenditure of households decrease the monetary but also symbolic value of food.[6] In this situation, it is easier for both retailers and buyers to discard products that have just reached their expiry date or are close to it. The work of food-gathering associations helps to reduce the scale of waste, but the most effective solutions for reducing food waste are to be found through the networking and collaboration of the various links in the chain: producers, canteens, municipalities, consumers, etc.

The methodology published in March 2019 in the form of a draft delegated decision[7] by the EC for a uniform measurement of food waste levels aims at distinguishing the quantities of loss according to the stage of the agri-food chain: primary production, processing and manufacture, retail sales , catering and households. The quantity of food waste in each stage of the supply chain is determined by measuring the food waste generated by a representative sample via some methods such as direct measurement (via a device determining the weight of food waste samples) or scanning / counting of the number of articles constituting food waste and to determine its weight.

Member States should, according to the draft Commission delegated decision, inform the EC of the methods used and of any change of method adopted. The methodological document and its annexes will in principle be adopted this spring and will open the door to quantitative reduction targets by Member States.

Until now, there is little detailed information at national level as to the amount of food waste since it is often collected together with non-food waste. Moreover, data don’t contain information about waste, which is discarded outside the waste collection and treatment system. This methodology therefore aims to provide a framework for Member States' efforts to determine the quantities of food waste generated and to obtain a European overview of the phenomenon helping to make relevant decisions in the fight against food waste. By 2030, the EU will have to reduce by 50% the volume of food waste per capita in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Program signed in 2015.[8] The new measurement methodology is part of the European strategy to achieve this goal.


[1] Estimates of European food waste levels, Fusions EU project, 2016 : http://www.eu-fusions.org/phocadownload/Publications/Estimates%20of%20European%20food%20waste%20levels.pdf

[2] REPORT on initiative on resource efficiency: reducing food waste, improving food safety, 28.04.2017 : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-8-2017-0175_FR.html

[3] Gaspillage alimentaire : l’Union européenne a l’obligation morale et politique d’agir, 12.04.2017 :http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/fr/headlines/society/20170407STO70779/gaspillage-alimentaire-l-ue-a-l-obligation-morale-et-politique-d-agir

[4] Food waste: the problem in the EU in numbers [infographic], 12.5.2017 : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/fr/headlines/society/20170505STO73528/infographie-les-chiffres-du-gaspillage-alimentaire-dans-l-union-europeenne

[5] « 88 millions de tonnes de nourriture jetées chaque année en Europe », Tout l’Europe, 31.08.2018 : https://www.touteleurope.eu/actualite/88-millions-de-tonnes-de-nourriture-jetees-chaque-annee-en-europe.html 

[6] Ibid.

[7] COMMISSION DELEGATED DECISION (EU) …/… of XXX 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 : https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiatives/ares-2018-705329_en

[8] The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development : https://www.un.org/en/africa/osaa/peace/sdgs.shtml

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