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EU Proposes Food Waste Reduction Targets As Part of ‘Unambitious’ Soil Health Initiative

CRISIS - Biosystem Viability by Martina Igini Europe Jul 6th 20233 mins
EU Proposes Food Waste Reduction Targets As Part of ‘Unambitious’ Soil Health Initiative

According to the draft proposal, the EU would require member states to cut food waste by 10% in processing and manufacturing by 2030.

The European Union has tabled draft measures aimed at reducing food waste along the food supply chain and in households.

Under the proposal, the EU would require all 27 bloc members to cut food waste by 10% in processing and manufacturing by 2030. Restaurants, food services, and households – which together waste an estimated 10% of the food they are supplied with –  must cut waste by 30% in the same timeframe. Households are the biggest source of food waste in the EU, accounting for about 53% of the total, according to Eurostat.

food waste in the European Union by main economic sector; eurostat food waste EU

Image: Eurostat.

About 59 million tonnes of food – nearly 131 kg/inhabitant – are thrown away yearly across the EU, amounting to approximately €132 billion (US$143.5 billion) in economic loss, according to EU data. Meanwhile, some 32.6 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day.

Aside from the economic and social consequences, food waste is also among the most pressing environmental issues of our lifetime. When we throw away food, we also throw away the precious resources that went into producing it, such as land, water, and other natural resources. Worldwide, food waste accounts for one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and generates 8% of greenhouse gases annually. 

At the European level, food waste is responsible for 252 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents or about 16% of the total GHG emissions from the bloc’s food system. If food waste were a member state, it would be the fifth-largest GHG emitter.

More on the topic: How Does Food Waste Affect the Environment?

The European Commission described the proposed legislation as a “triple win”, as it would not only save food for human consumption but it would also lower food’s environmental impact comes, and help businesses and consumers to save money – an estimated €400 ($434) on average for a 4-person household.

Previous EU waste legislation requiring member states to implement national food waste prevention programmes did not lead to enough reduction in food waste, the Commission admitted.

food waste; wasted food; landfill

Nearly 59 million tonnes of food waste (131 kg/inhabitant) are generated in the EU each year. This represents an estimated loss of €132 billion.

The plan comes as part of a wider initiative aimed at strengthening the resilience of EU food systems and farming, including a legislative proposal to protect and restore EU soil health adopted by the European Commission on Wednesday.  

According to EU data, 60% of European soils are degraded, costing the bloc over €50 billion ($54.2 billion) per year, and the trend is only expected to worsen.

Besides being a key asset in global food security, soil is the largest active store of carbon next to the oceans, making it a great asset in limiting global temperature rise and mitigating changes in our climate. If we do not change our reckless practices and step up to preserve soil health, food security for billions of people around the world will be irreversibly compromised, with an estimated 40% less food expected to be produced worldwide in 20 years’ time despite the world’s population projected to reach 9.3 billion people.

The EU soil proposal will require member states to monitor soil erosion, cut fertiliser use as well as clean up contaminated sites – about 2.8 million according to the EU – with the aim to achieve healthy soils by 2050, in line with the EU Zero Pollution ambition.

While European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius said the new law will “boost Europe’s resilience and ensure a viable future,” industry players, as well as campaigning group European Environmental Bureau (EEB), have expressed disappointment at the lack of ambition.

“Soil ecosystems are one of our most important lifelines in the face of the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises. Unfortunately, the proposal falls short of expectations by not including legally binding targets or requiring mandatory plans and by not sufficiently recognising the functional role of soil biodiversity,” said Caroline Heinzel, Associate Policy Officer for Soil at the European Environmental Bureau. 

“Renaming the ‘Soil Law’ suggests the focus has switched to simply observing soil health rather than ensuring its improvement,” she added. 

You might also like: On A Mission to Keep the Magic of Soil Alive: An Interview with Sadhguru

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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