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Study quantifies diverted food waste

Study quantifies diverted food waste

Food manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers are making significant strides in reducing the volume of food going to landfills during the manufacturing and marketing process.

FOOD manufacturers and retailers generated an estimated 48.1 billion lb. of food waste in 2011 but successfully diverted 91.5% of food waste from landfills to higher uses such as donations and recycling.

In the first-ever benchmark analysis of food waste data collected directly from food manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers, researchers found that the food industry is making significant strides in reducing the volume of food going to landfills during the manufacturing and marketing process.

Commissioned by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance — a cross-sector industry initiative led by the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Assn. — the study gathered 2011 food waste data from 13 food manufacturers representing 17% of industry revenue and from 13 retailers and wholesalers representing 30% of industry revenue.

Based on those survey respondents' data, consulting firm BSR estimated that the food manufacturing sector generates considerably larger volumes of food waste than the retail/wholesale sector but does a considerably better job of diverting that waste. The report estimated food manufacturing waste of 44.3 billion lb., 94.6% of which was kept from landfills and put to other uses.

The retail/wholesale sector, on the other hand, generated only 3.8 billion lb. of waste but diverted only 55.6% of that waste to higher uses.

According to the analysis, roughly 73% of manufacturing food waste was diverted to animal feed, while food donations and composting were the most common diversion for food waste at the retail and wholesale level, representing 32% and 43% of diverted food, respectively (Figure).

Despite significant differences in the total amount of food waste the sectors generate, they donated and disposed of similar amounts in 2011. Manufacturers disposed of 2.4 billion lb. and donated 700 million lb., while the retail/wholesale sector disposed of 1.7 billion lb. and donated 670 million lb.

Gauging industry-wide performance, however, belies the vast differences among companies within each sector. Among food manufacturers, for example, food donations averaged just 2% of total waste but ranged from as little as 0% to as much as 45% of a company's total waste.

The study found that food waste generated through manufacturing tends to be made up of unused ingredients, unfinished product or trimmings, peels and other unavoidable food waste. The large volume of food and relatively few manufacturing sites create economies of scale that allow manufacturers to recycle waste at a high rate.

Conversely, food waste at the retail level tends to consist of finished products that are more suitable for donation. Numerous locations and diverse product offerings make food waste diversion a significant logistical challenge for many retailers.

More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents indicated that there are barriers, either internal or external, preventing their company from donating more unsaleable food and cited several common barriers that prevented them from diverting more food waste from landfills to other higher uses.

Transportation constraints and liability concerns were the most commonly cited barriers for food donation, while the most frequently reported obstacle to food recycling was an insufficient number of recycling options (Tables 1 and 2).

"The primary objective of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance is to reduce the volume of food waste sent to landfill by addressing the root causes of waste and securing pathways to donate safe food or recycle it for use elsewhere," said Susan Kujava, industry relations director at General Mills Inc. and co-chair of the alliance. "This new (information) not only helps us better understand how industry currently is managing food waste; it gives us a benchmark against which we can measure our progress."


Study quantifies diverted food waste

1. Barriers to donating food (%)




Transportation constraints



Liability concerns



Insufficient storage and refrigeration at food banks



Regulatory constraints



Insufficient on-site storage and refrigeration




2. Barriers to recycling food waste (%)




Insufficient recycling options



Transportation constraints



Liability concerns



Concerns about collection and storage relative to food safety




Volume:85 Issue:26

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