Food Loss & Waste: It Happens At Every Step Of The Supply Chain

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

In a world whose future is threatened by food insecurity, it is vital we capitalise on minimising food loss and waste now. How can we do this? By Onat Bayraktar, vice president, Food Care Asia, Sealed Air

According to the United Nations, over one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which is about 1.3 billion tons per year. Singapore is making a concerted effort to reduce the amount of waste it generates as a nation. In 2015, 1.73 million tonnes of domestic waste was generated locally, of which more than half was made up of packaging for food and drinks.

The government is looking to tackle this issue by implementing mandatory requirements on the packaging of consumer products within the next three to five years. This is in line with the global Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 by the United Nations to reduce overall environment and food waste. Where do food manufacturers and producers begin to address this issue?

Food Loss—Where Does It Begin?


Food loss occurs at every step of the food supply chain although food waste at the downstream or end of the supply chain tends to get more attention, namely the discarding of food that is fit for human consumption. Food loss and waste amounts to roughly US$680 billion in industrialised countries and US$310 billion in developing countries.

In developing countries, 40 percent of food loss occurs at the early stages of the value chain at the production, post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialised countries more than 40 percent of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.

Across Asia, 20-40 percent of food is lost or wasted because of issues along the supply chain: poor quality roads, hot weather conditions, lack of refrigeration, and poor packaging. Consumer behaviours contribute significantly to the issue—throwing out unopened or cooked food due to loss of flavour and freshness, discarding leftovers, and disposing of food that has gone past its expiration date.

In industrialised countries such as Singapore, because of the small farming and post-harvesting sector, wastage occurring at the retail and consumer level is much more visible. However, it becomes all the more important that consumers are aware that the total cost of food thrown away is more than just its retail cost. Food loss is more than the economic value of the food produced—it also comprises a waste of resources used in food production such as land, water and energy.

Carbon Footprint Of Meat

Meat in particular, has high impact in terms of land occupation and carbon footprint that includes the amount of water, feed, energy, land, labour, and greenhouse gas emissions expended to produce the meat.

Consider the resource requirements to produce 1 kg of edible beef which is an equivalent of two ribeye steaks: 4,500 litres of water, 1.6 kg of feed, 1,000 MJ of energy and 36 kg of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gas. The global trend in growing consumption of protein or animal products, and processed foods will inevitably increase the demand for such resources.

Tackling Food Loss And Waste

Love Food Hate Waste NZ

There are numerous ways to tackle food loss along the food supply chain, ranging from better storage and processing facilities, better infrastructure, greater knowledge of food safety practices, to better linkages and market support systems among farmers, processors and retailers, and better food packaging.

At the downstream phase, consumer behaviour and education play an important role. Needless to say, direct involvement and engagement by all key stakeholders—governments, farming communities, processors, retailers and consumers—are needed to make any of these preventive measures effective.

The reasons for food waste are complex and constant innovations are needed to manage the sustainability of food supply chain, from cold chain management to food packaging.

Where does packaging stand in the food supply chain?

In the beef supply chain, food production accounts for the greatest energy use, followed by energy used by consumers to refrigerate, prepare and cook meat. However, packaging represents only four percent of the total energy used.

Another way to look at it is that the carbon footprint of 1kg of beef is 370 times the carbon footprint of the bag used to package it. For that small consumption of energy and investment, packaging offers much broader returns in terms of protecting investments in producing, growing and processing food though:

  • Enhancing food safety by reducing potential for food contamination
  • Increasing shelf life up to 28 days
  • Improving operational efficiency through improving production and supply chain efficiency and reducing waste
  • Creating better quality, colour and consumer experience

Companies such as Sealed Air have developed packaging technology and systems to reduce food waste by focusing on how products flow from the farm and processor to the retailer to the consumer.

At the processor level, packaging innovations today can help to protect production yield, prevent product spoilage and physical damage during distribution.

At the retail level, packaging solutions help to address in-store prep losses, as well as extend shelf-life.

At the consumer level, packaging provides portioning of food to reduce avoidable food waste, and preserve the freshness of food. Just as importantly, packaging innovations can help to reduce the carbon footprint through better material utilisation and less scrap going to landfills.

Reducing food loss and waste not only makes good business sense. It is also a way for everyone along the value chain to build a safer and more sustainable food value chain for the long-term. It starts with all of us, as consumers, being conscious and aware that food loss occurs at every stage of the supply chain and the significant amount of resources that are spent on food production from farm to fork.