The ambitious agenda towards zero food waste

Did you know that in 2021, approximately 131 kg of food waste per capita were produced in the EU, among which restaurants and food services contributed 12 kg per person (9%), while retail and other food distribution sectors had the lowest food waste at 9 kg per person (7%).

Source: Eurostat, Food waste and food waste prevention, September 2023, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?oldid=578564

While these figures indicate great potential for improvement. Let us explain how implementing reusable packaging solutions could offer a promising avenue for addressing food waste even more effectively.

In a bid to reduce food waste the EU decided to revise its Waste Framework Directive. In this blogpost, we will dive into food waste and why the European Union wants to further reduce it, we will explain how Reusable Transport Packaging can help the European Union in its objective. Finally, we will look into the positions of both the Parliament and Council regarding the Waste Framework Directive.

The EU’s ambition to reduce food waste

The Waste Framework Directive outlines key concepts and principles for waste management in the EU. It defines waste, recycling, recovery and establishes a five-step waste hierarchy, emphasizing waste prevention, followed by reuse, recycling, recovery, and finally, disposal. This hierarchy guides waste management practices to minimize environmental impact.

In July 2023, the European Commission proposed to revise the Waste Framework Directive to include more ambitious measures to fight against food waste and ensure environmental sustainability of the textiles and food sectors as they represent top resource intensive sectors causing significant environmental damage.

What about food waste?

Food waste is a significant issue in the agri-food chain, leading to environmental, economic, and social consequences, such as hunger or social equity (unable distribution). In the EU, it contributes to negative impacts on climate, biodiversity, and resource use. In 2020, the EU generated 58.5 million tons of food waste, resulting in 252 million tons of CO2 emissions and significant water consumption.

The economic cost associated with this waste is estimated at 132 billion euros, including expenses by both businesses and households. To address this, the EU and its Member States have committed to halving food waste by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goal Targets.

The EU has implemented various actions, including regulatory measures and the establishment of monitoring mechanisms such as national food waste prevention programs. However, despite efforts, food waste levels remain high, necessitating further action and target setting. The EU aims to assign clear responsibilities to Member States, encourage consistent responses, and support ambitious actions tailored to national contexts.

Reusable Transport Packaging in the WFD

To fulfill the goal of reducing food waste, it’s crucial to encourage the uptake of   transport packaging solutions proven to minimize food loss and spoilage. Examples include Reusable Plastic Crates (RPCs) and Reusable Wooden Pallets (RWPs), which exemplify the principles of the circular economy by being reused for 7 to 10 years and fully recycled afterward, effectively curbing packaging waste and preventing significant food loss.

Reusable transport packaging (RTP) plays a vital role in reducing food waste by providing better stability and protection for fruits and vegetables during transportation. Research conducted by

the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany [1] highlights the substantial reduction in food waste achieved by using reusable crates compared to disposable packaging.

A double win?

Furthermore, reusable transport packaging not only helps prevent food waste but also addresses packaging waste within the supply chain. The Fraunhofer study reveals further that disposable packaging experiences around 4% damage during transportation from producer to retail outlet, whereas reusable packaging sustains only 0.1% damage throughout the same journey, showcasing its durability and effectiveness in minimizing packaging waste.

Recognizing packaging as a means to reduce food waste aligns with the European Union’s ambition to tackle packaging waste through initiatives like the PPWR (Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive).

For more insights into how RTP combats food and packaging waste, refer to our previous blogpost on the benefits of reusable transport packaging.

The ENVI Committee’s bold amendments versus the Presidency’s modest proposal

On 14 February, the ENVI Committee in the European Parliament issued its report on the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, to be voted upon mid-March in the European Parliament Plenary.

In its report, the ENVI Committee put forth insightful amendments to the proposal aimed at significantly curbing food waste during the transportation phase of products, underscored by the pivotal role of reusable transport packaging.

  • Ambitious targets for food waste reduction: with a forward-looking approach, the ENVI Committee advocates for a robust reduction target of 40% in food waste across retail and distribution channels by 2030, compared to the average annual volume generated between 2020 and 2022.
  • Emphasis on packaging as a solution: recognizing the pivotal role of packaging in mitigating food waste, the ENVI Committee underscores the imperative of promoting sustainable packaging solutions, particularly during transportation and storage phases. By doing so, they aim to optimize resource utilization and minimize environmental impact.
  • Continuous evaluation for enhanced targets: to ensure sustained progress, the ENVI Committee recommends a thorough evaluation in 2027 to explore the feasibility of implementing a binding target of at least 50% reduction by 2035. This proactive approach underscores a commitment to continual improvement and adaptation to evolving challenges and opportunities.

Unlike the Parliament, the Belgian Presidency failed to explicitly acknowledge the crucial role of packaging in reducing food waste. Additionally, it did not propose more ambitious targets in this regard.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the European Commission’s proposed Waste Framework Directive (WFD) represents a significant step forward in advancing the EU’s environmental objectives, particularly in the crucial area of food waste reduction.

The commendation by the ENVI Committee, highlighting the importance of sustainable packaging, shows we need to take a well-rounded approach to make it work. RPE unequivocally endorses the efforts of European institutions and urges the Council of the EU to align with the ambitious trajectory set forth by the Parliament, thereby intensifying collective efforts to combat food waste effectively.


[1] Save the Food Study (May 2013) Determination of spoilage levels of fresh fruit and vegetables according to the type of packaging (in cooperation with Fraunhofer Institute).