Why is food waste reduction important?
When food is wasted, so are the resources and labor used to grow, harvest, process, transport, and manage the food from farm to table. Food waste is a huge challenge, with significant environmental, social, and economic impacts.
A greater understanding of these impacts catalyzed a global effort to reduce food waste. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations found one third (approximately 1.3 billion tons) of all food produced for human consumption is wasted1. In the U.S., 35 percent of the 229 million tons of food available went unsold or uneaten in 2019. That’s nearly $130 billion worth of meals unsold or uneaten each year, at a cost of almost 2 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product2.
Our calculations indicate Washington generates more than one million tons of food waste annually, with a large portion (about 35 percent) being edible food going into landfills. Washington is now in line with global, national, and regional goals to reduce food waste by 50 precent by 2030. The Use Food Well Washington Plan is a roadmap to meet the statewide food waste reduction goals.
1. UN FAO [United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization] 2021.
Food Systems | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (fao.org)
2. ReFED [Rethink Food waste through Economics and Data] 2021. Roadmap to 2030. https://refed.com/
To address food waste and wasted food in Washington, the 2019 Washington Legislature passed ESHB 1114, now codified as 70A.205.715 RCW.
The law established statewide food waste reduction goals, relative to 2015 levels, including a focus on reducing the amount of wasted edible food. We are required to establish baseline data to annually track progress toward the statewide food waste reduction goals.
We developed the 2015 baseline data, and further defined the edible food waste reduction goal, resulting in the following statewide food waste reduction goals:
Goal 1: Reduce food waste generated by 50 percent by 2030.
Goal 2: Reduce at least half of edible food waste by 2030.
We were also tasked to develop and implement a food waste reduction plan that focuses on three key strategies:
- Prevention: Prevent and reduce the amount of food that's wasted.
- Rescue: Rescue edible food that would otherwise be wasted and ensure the food reaches those who need it.
- Recovery: Support productive uses of inedible food materials, including using it for animal feed, energy production through anaerobic digestion, and for off-site or on-site management systems including composting, vermicomposting, or other biological systems.
To draft the plan and identify ways to reduce food waste in Washington, we consulted with the Washington departments of Agriculture (WSDA), Health, (DOH), Commerce (COM), Office of Superintendent Public Instruction (OSPI), and over 150 subject matter experts (SMEs). We also conducted research and literature reviews to support the recommendations in the plan. A total of 30 recommendations to reduce food waste were identified through the collaborative engagement process.
Our research and planning show it is possible to achieve the 2030 food waste reduction goals with the full implementation of the UFWW Plan. We found additional environmental, economic, and social benefits can be realized through comprehensive implementation, including a net financial benefit of over $1 billion annually.
These benefits are realized through:
· Comprehensive implementation of the UFWW Plan.
· Prioritizing and maintaining public-private partnerships throughout plan implementation.
· Reducing barriers to food waste reduction across the food system.
· Investing in the food system infrastructure.
The results and benefits of the UFWW Plan are only realized through comprehensive implementation of the 30 recommendations. We found a piecemeal approach could result in higher costs, reduced effectiveness, and Washington not reaching its food waste reduction goals. Our economic analysis found that there is no single solution to food waste reduction, but instead an interconnected network of recommendations across the food system.
Moving from planning into action
Comment period: Closed as of Sept. 10, 2021
After comments are processed, we intend to work with agency partners to deliver the plan and legislative report to the Washington Legislature in October 2021.