Photo Credit: Flickr: USDA

An estimated one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted, according to the FAO, costing the world an estimated $940 billion per year. Food loss and waste (FLW) also exacerbates food insecurity and malnutrition, depletes natural resources, and generates an estimated 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing food loss and waste can therefore be a triple win: saving money for farmers, companies, and households, improving food security, and reducing environmental pressures on water, land, and the climate.

The first step in reducing FLW, however, is properly measuring it and understanding its true scope. The Protocol for the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW Standard) provides guidance on the quantification and reporting of food loss and waste. ¬The FLW Standard enables countries, cities, companies, and other entities to develop inventories of how much FLW they generate and where it goes. These inventories can then underpin strategies for minimizing FLW. The FLW Protocol is a multi-stakeholder partnership and was developed from inputs from: the Consumer Goods Forum, the FAO, the EU-funded FUSIONS project, UNEP, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, WRAP, and the World Resources Institute, which also lead the drafting and reviewing process.

The FLW Standard is designed to be used by a wide variety of entities/actors across all economic sectors and in any country. Such actors may include intergovernmental agencies, governments, industry associations, companies, and agricultural producers. Prior to developing an FLW inventory, it is crucial for actors to clearly articulate why they want to quantify FLW (e.g., preventing FLW from occurring or diverting it so that its value can be recovered or used as an input for other processes). This is important because different goals lead to different definitions of what constitutes FLW. The FLW Standard attempts to address this challenge by defining the possible components of FLW in terms of possible material types (food and/or associated inedible parts) and destinations (where material removed from the food supply chain is directed). This allows an actor to select which combination of material types and destinations it considers to be “food loss and waste.”

Under the FLW Standard, actors are required to report on four components: timeframe (the period of time for which the inventory results are being reported), material type (the materials that are included in the inventory (food only, inedible parts only, or both), destination (where FLW goes when removed from the food supply chain), and boundary (the food category, lifecycle stage, geography, and organization).

An example of how an FLW material may be reported as going to multiple destinations can be seen from the case of used cooking oil taken from restaurants. There are well-established markets for recycling used oil that would fall under the “bio-based materials and biochemical processing” destination because the oil may be converted into a wide array of products and because the choice of final outputs is made by the facility processing the oil. Alternatively, some restaurants dehydrate their used oil, creating both liquid and solid materials that may not go to the same destination; for example, the liquid condensate generated by the dehydrator may be collected and used to water on-site landscaping. In this case, the destination is “land application.” If the solid residual that is generated is collected by a third party and taken for composting, the restaurant would report the destination as “composting/aerobic processes.”

The standard provides 10 possible quantification methods: weighing FLW, waste composition analysis, mass-balance calculation, and surveying. These various quantification methods generally present a trade-off between accuracy and the cost of conducting the quantification and the standard provides guidance regarding which methodological options are likely to result in FLW inventories with a higher degree of accuracy. To ensure transparency, the FLW Standard requires actors to report the quantification method used and to describe the level of uncertainty.

There are a number of steps to comply with the standard including defining the goals, establishing scope, selecting a quantification method, gathering and assessing data, and setting targets. The Protocol provides more detail on each of these steps. For instance, in terms of FLW quantification at the national level by a national authority, the protocol recommends that data be collected over the course of one calendar year (timeframe) and that both food and associated inedible materials be recorded separately. This provides authorities with the option to analyze the different material types separately. The standard also requires reporting of FLW sent to relevant destinations (selected from among the 10 destination categories and reported separately, if possible). The destinations chosen for reporting will vary depending on a country’s priorities. For example, a national authority seeking to maximize food availability and resource efficiency is likely to want to include all 10 destinations. However, a national authority focused on, for example, reducing organic matter going to landfills, controlled combustion, and sewers may want report only for those three destinations.

This is the first version of the FLW Standard; it will be updated over time as quantification methods, data, and user needs evolve. It is hoped that as the FLW Standard becomes widely adopted, it will support coordinated, effective interventions and initiatives to reduce food loss and waste across value chains.

The complete FLW Standard contains additional guidance, resources, and examples to assist in its use.

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