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Brussels, 14 September 2011

Questions and Answers on Food Waste Minimisation and Food Packaging Optimisation


What is food waste?

Food waste concerns the loss of raw or cooked food materials before, during or after meal preparation in the household as well as food discarded in the process of producing, manufacturing, distribution, retail and food service activities.

How big is the problem in the EU?

It is estimated that in the European Union every person wastes about 179 kilos of food a year. In total this is about 89 million tonnes per year.1 Agricultural food waste and fish discards are not included in these estimates. This means that the total annual food waste is even higher. Food waste is expected to rise to about 126 million tonnes (up by 40%) by 2020 without additional prevention policies or activities.

Who is wasting all this food and why?

Food is wasted at all stages of the food chain: from producers, manufacturers, retailers, caterers and consumers2.

Food waste occurs for various reasons. For example, in the manufacturing sector it is mainly caused by overproduction, misshapen products (wrong size or shape), and by product & packaging damage. In the retail sector it is caused by marketing standards (aesthetic issues or packaging defects), stock mismanagement and marketing strategies (two-for-one deals).

In households, reasons include a lack of awareness on quantities of food wasted and on the environmental and economical costs of food waste. The lack of knowledge on how to use food efficiently (e.g. making the most of leftovers, cooking with available ingredients) also contributes to food waste from households as does a lack of shopping planning and the misreading of date labels.

Finally, the catering sector contributes to food waste by offering only one portion size (while individuals have different portion needs), because of a difficulty in anticipating the right number of clients, and because taking leftovers home is not yet an accepted habit in Europe.

How can food-waste minimisation be achieved?

In order to be successful, it is essential to involve all the actors of the food supply chain and to target the different causes of food waste per sector.

Awareness on food waste is currently very low. Increased awareness is necessary to bring about long term behavioural change and significantly reduce food wastage. Schools, for example, can play an important role in this.

Food banks also have a role in food waste prevention by collecting food surpluses from retailers/wholesalers, bakeries, auctions and individuals through national and local collections and then redistribute it to charity organisations.

Does food waste minimisation have adverse effects on food safety ?

Ensuring food safety is the absolute priority, but food waste can be reduced without compromising food safety and hygiene standards. Often there are strong synergies between food waste reduction and food safety. For example, communicating about food date labels ("best before" and "use by" dates) and about refrigerated storage of food has both food safety and food waste benefits.

What can I do in my daily life to limit food waste?

Follow these tips to help you reduce food waste, save money and protect the environment:

1. Plan your shopping: Menu plan your meals for a week. Check the ingredients in your fridge and cupboards, then write a shopping list for just the extras you need. Take your list with you and stick to it when you're in the store. Don't be tempted by offers and don't shop when you're hungry — you'll come back with more than you need. Buy loose fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packed so you can buy exactly the amount you need.

2. Check the dates: If you are not planning to eat a certain item with a short "use by" date, look for one with a longer "use by" date or just plan to buy it on the day you require. Be aware on the meaning of date labels: "use by" means that the food is only safe for consumption until the indicated day (e.g. for meat and fish); "best before" indicates the date up until when the product retains its expected quality. Food products are still safe to consume even after the indicated "best before" day.

3. Consider your budget: Wasting food means wasting money.

4. Keep a healthy fridge: Check the seals and the temperature of your fridge. Food needs to be stored between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius for maximum freshness and longevity.

5. Rotate: When you buy new food from the store, bring all the older items in your cupboards and fridge to the front. Put the new food at the back to reduce the risk of finding something mouldy in your food storage compartments.

6. Use up your leftovers: Instead of scraping leftovers into the bin, they can be used for lunches the following day, go into the next day’s dinner or be frozen for another occasion. Fruit that is just going soft can be used to make smoothies or fruit pies. Vegetables that are starting to wilt can be made into soups.

7. Serve small amounts of food with the understanding that everybody can come back for more once they've cleared their plate.

8. Store food in accordance with the instructions on the packaging.

9 Freeze: If you only eat a small amount of bread, then freeze it when you get home and take out a few slices a couple of hours before you need them. Likewise, batch cooked foods so that you have meals ready for those evenings when you are too tired to cook.

10. Turn it into garden food: Some food waste is unavoidable, so why not set up a compost bin for fruit and vegetable peelings? In a few months you will end up with rich, valuable compost for your plants. If you have cooked food waste, then a kitchen composter will do the trick. Just feed it with your scraps, sprinkle over a layer of special microbes and leave to ferment. The resulting product can be used for houseplants and in the garden.


What does food packaging optimisation mean?

Food packaging optimisation is about reducing unnecessary food packaging (e.g. four apples wrapped together) without compromising food safety and without increasing food waste. It is also about finding a balance between adapting food packaging to changing lifestyles (smaller portion sizes for smaller households to reduce food waste) and preventing the additional packaging waste this might create. Finally, it is about innovative alternatives – such as bio-plastic (bio-based and bio-degradable), intelligent and active packaging.

Is bio-packaging a solution?

Bio-plastics represent a concrete example of innovative and sustainable food packaging that could be part of the solution provided that a number of challenges are addressed. We must ensure that bio-plastics protect food adequately, that the production of bio-plastics does not imply competition with edible food (efforts are being undertaken to develop bio-plastics from agricultural residues and other waste streams) and that separate collection systems for the bio-plastic waste are in place.

How can food packaging help to reduce food waste?

Well-designed food packaging can help consumers buy the right amount of food that is also in line with their needs. This, for instance, can be done through smaller pack sizes and split packs. Well-designed food packaging can also help consumers keep what they buy at its best through re-closable packs, new vacuum and shrink wrap packaging that extends shelf life. Finally, food packaging can help consumers use what they buy effectively through portioning, extending shelf life and providing tips.

How does food packaging link to food safety? And what is the Commission doing to address it?

The primary role of food packaging is to protect the packaged food products against outside influences such as breakage, spoilage and contamination. Furthermore, the EU legislation on Food Contact Materials ensures that materials in contact with food (food packaging, kitchen utensils) are safe and that they do not transfer their components into foods in unacceptable quantities. The legislation also ensures that plastic recycling used in food contact materials is safe.

What is the Commission doing to minimise food waste and to optimise food packaging?

The Commission has started to analyse with all interested parties, including the food industry, ways to minimise food waste and optimise food packaging without compromising food safety. It is engaged in a constructive dialogue with the EU Retail Forum3for Sustainability, with the EU Food Sustainable Consumption and Production Roundtable4, with the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning of the Food Supply Chain; and with an Informal Member States Network.

Why is the Commission raising this issue now?

The EU 2020 Resource Efficiency Flagship5 stressed the need to maximise the efficient use of scarce natural resources. The significant amounts of food wasted are a striking example of inefficient use of resources. Also in the context of the financial crisis (wasting food costs money), in the context of ensuring global food security (how to feed nine billion people in 2050) and taking into account the millions of people suffering from hunger, the Commission is determined to address this issue and engage in a dialogue aiming to minimise food waste and optimise food packaging without compromising food safety. The Commission decided to focus its activities during this year's Food Safety Day (September 15) on Food Waste Minimisation and Food Packaging Optimisation. On that day Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli will visit the Brussels Food Bank, the International School of Brussels and the research centre of Total Petrochemicals where bio-plastic food packaging is under development.

For more information:

1 :

"Preparatory study on food waste across EU 27" (BIO Intelligence Service, October 2010) funded by the EU

2 :

The EU funded study roughly estimates that households are responsible for 42% of the total amount of food waste, food manufacturers for 39%, retailers for 5% and the catering sector for 14%. Agricultural waste and fish discards are not included in this study.

3 :

A multi-stakeholder platform set up in order to exchange best practices on sustainability in the EU retail sector and to identify opportunities and barriers for the achievement of sustainable consumption and production.

4 :

An initiative co-chaired by the European Commission and food supply chain partners and supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and European Environment Agency. There are 24 member organisations representing the European food supply chain.

5 :

Communication "A resource efficient Europe – Flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 Strategy" COM(2011)21 – 26/1/2011.

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