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Faces of Food Waste E07: Who is responsible for food waste?

Up to half of all food produced is wasted, while 690 million people worldwide starve to death every day (FAO, 2020).

This wastage directly turns into greenhouse gas emissions triggering climate change and global shortage of natural resources. An obvious question springs to mind: who is guilty for this social and environmental problem?

In 2015, the EU committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the most important objectives is to halve the food waste per capita by 2030. This target was set due to increasing concerns about the availability of resources, security of nourishment and environmental impact of food dissipation (Ponis et al., 2017).

The production of aliments requires the use of natural resources such as water, land, raw materials, and energy. Greenhouse gas emissions also occur during the production, consumption, and wastage.

The downstream tier of the food supply chain (FSC), namely the production of scraps taking place at the household level, also causes soil erosion, deforestation, and air pollution (Mourad, 2016).

Moreover, the population will increase over the years implying that more people have to share the disposable amount of food. Hence, there is a need to take an immediate action to secure enough nourishment for the global population and mitigate climate change.

However, who is responsible to take action in this matter?

When it comes to reducing the current high levels of scraps produced, individual responsibility is frequently pointed out. Indeed, better planning and shopping are the most efficient means to tackle the issue. Wastage takes place throughout the entire FSC, i.e., pre-production, production, post-production, consumption, loss, and waste. However, consensus in available literature shows that consumers are responsible for the largest amounts of groceries thrown out and, therefore, have the responsibility to avoid it.

Raising awareness about domestic food waste is one of the most promising means to stop this menace.

A recent study focussing on Dutch consumers shows that food purchase behaviour in-store is the main cause for edibles being wasted (Janssens et al., 2019). According to the authors, the more the consumers plan their grocery purchases, the less they will discard. Additionally, age is a variable which also impacts food waste: the older the people, the less is thrown away.

But, are consumers the only ones responsible for avoiding food waste?

If, on the one hand, people often buy more than necessary; on the other hand, it is widely recognized that in-store offers such as “Buy one and get one free” lead customers to purchase more than needed, thus creating wastage.

Several people report that the package size of certain products is often too large for singles or couples (Schanes et al., 2018) but it is also more expensive to buy smaller portions. According to Williams et al. (2012), 20-25% of food waste is due to this situation.

Therefore, considering how much purchase behaviour in-store affects this issue, grocery retailers have their considerable share of responsibility in tackling the issue too.

Conscious packaging would certainly reduce food wasted at homes. In fact, retailers will benefit from avoiding overprovisioning. Buyers who waste less, save more money that could be used to purchase more expensive aliments or try new ones.

So, who should be held responsible for stopping food waste?

In developed countries, the first step necessary towards reducing food waste is to influence consumers to embrace environmentally friendly behaviour. Reforms in legislation and business attitude are surely needed to achieve this goal.

In developing countries, lacking technology for modernised agriculture is a major cause for sustenance losses. So, research and innovation across the whole FSC can meet the global demand of nourishment by 2050 (Parfitt, 2010).

Furthermore, even though there is clear evidence that old age has a negative impact on wastage, we should not assume that this demographic information will remain the same over the years. The elderly of the future are likely to develop the same irresponsible attitude when it comes to food wastage.

Hence, an immediate action is vital to secure sustenance for the global population in the future.

Raising awareness about food waste, reducing food waste amongst consumers, and active public policy regulating the alimentary industry sector are key success factors, crucial to win this fight.




Janssens, K.; Lambrechts, W.; van Osch, A.; Semeijn, J. How Consumer Behavior in Daily Food Provisioning Affects Food Waste at Household Level in The Netherlands. Foods. 2019 Sep 20;8(10):428.

Mourad, M. Recycling, recovering and preventing “food waste”: Competing solutions for food systems sustainability in the United States and France. J. Clean. Prod. 2016, 126, 461–477.

Parfitt, J.; Barthel, M.; Macnaughton, S. Food waste within food supply chains: Quantification and potential for change to 2050. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B 2010, 365, 3065–308.

Ponis, S.T.; Papanikolau, P.; Katimertzoglou, P.; Ntalla, A.; Xenos, K.I. Household food waste in Greece: A questionnaire survey. J. Clean. Prod. 2017, 149, 1268–1277.

Schanes, K.; Dobernig, K.; Gözet, B. Food waste matters - A systematic review of household food waste practices and their policy implications, Journal of Cleaner Production. 2018, 182, 978-991.

State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2020 online summary,

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