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A large row of apples rotting in a field.

A heap of windfall apples.

Credit: CgWink / Getty Images

Wasting Nothing

Call to action:

Eliminate 80 percent of food waste to feed more people using fewer resources on less land.

Nearly 40% of all food produced on farms never reaches our mouths. Losses occur on the way to the store or through waste by food retailers, restaurants, and consumers. On a per-capita basis, much more food is wasted in the developed world than in developing countries, mostly in homes. In North America, two-thirds of food loss and waste occurs at the consumer stage. Because food is an everyday part of our lives, and losses occur all along the supply chain, each of us has a role to play in ending food waste.

Action Items


Reduce food waste at home. Be more attentive about how much food you buy and throw away. Avoid buying perishable food in bulk. If you own a fridge, consider doing a fridge reality check to record food waste and map meaningful shifts you can take in your routine. You can also get creative about meal planning and groceries, discover new ways to cook, and explore food storage habits that help save money.

Only throw out food that has gone bad. Many product dates and “best used by” labels do not accurately represent the safe time limits that refrigerated foods will keep good. This FoodKeeper App provides information on shelf-life limits in both refrigerators and freezers.

Check the temperature setting of your fridge. Use a thermometer to check that your refrigerator is set at 40°F/ 4°C or below. The temperature of your freezer should be 0°F/ -12°C or below to maximize the shelf life of your products.

Support companies that make products from upcycled food waste. From repurposing surplus bread into beer and making soups from rescued products, food companies all around the world are reimaging food waste into delicious products. Here is a list of global organizations that prove that one person’s discards are another person’s treasure.

Carry takeaway containers when eating out. If you are eating out, don’t forget to carry takeaway containers in case you have leftovers to bring home. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers and eat them within the window of safely storing.

Use food-sharing apps. Apps such as OLIO and Food Rescue US allow you to connect with your local community to either donate or receive food.

Start a home or community compost. For unavoidable food waste, consider starting your own home or community compost to divert landfill waste.

Volunteer with a local food rescue organization. Click here if you’re in the US, or join a growing movement of freegans to rescue food that has been prematurely thrown in bins and turn it into meals through community kitchens.

Donate to a local food bank. You can find your nearest food bank on the Global FoodBanking Network or start a new food bank in your community. The Food Bank Singapore is one such organization that not only collects excess food from 300-plus suppliers and redistributes it to nursing homes and soup kitchens but also educates businesses on limiting food waste at the source.


Farmers (Developed Countries)

Optimize your harvest. This means aligning what is grown with what is harvested so that overproduction is avoided. In practice, this could look like redesigning contract structures, using technology to monitor produce, or data-sharing between producers and retailers.

Sell directly to consumers. To shorten the supply chain and reduce the chances of spoilage in transport and packaging, sell your products directly to consumers at local community or farmers' markets. See Decommodification for more details and inspiration.

Farmers (Developing Countries)

Organize with other farmers and diversify production. Farmers in low-income countries sometimes have to harvest crops early for subsistence or for cash flow. By organizing in groups to produce a great variety and quantity of cash crops or animals, farmers can receive credit from agricultural financial institutions or receive advance payment from buyers of the produce.

Supermarkets and Grocers

Stop throwing away food. Voluntarily adopt a target that ensures that all produce that cannot be sold is either given away to other organizations or given to livestock farmers or feed manufacturers. Further, eliminate policies based on the cosmetic value of produce and encourage customers to purchase “ugly” produce through price incentives.

Submit to an enforced code of practice. Such a commitment would protect suppliers, both manufacturers, and farmers, from unfair practices such as volatile last-minute order changes, take-back clauses, and dumping surplus cost, which prevents surplus produce from finding willing buyers or charities.

​​​​​​Reform and educate on best-before dates. Many fruits, vegetables, and bakery items have best-before dates. Inform the public on the meaning of the dating system in your context, and offer discounts on produce that is set to expire.


Provide farmers in developing countries with postharvest management infrastructure and training. Initiatives like YieldWise support farmers in developing countries and help them to gain access to postharvest technologies, storage and processing equipment, and access to marketplaces. Invest in local organizations and businesses that have ideas about how to address agricultural food waste in their region, but that lack capital.



Measure food waste. Measure back-of-house and front-of-house food waste (using equipment like buckets) generated each day for a month to determine your baseline amount of waste.

Identify and reduce sources of food waste. Depending on the sources of your waste (purchasing, storage, portion size), adjust your practices and track any changes in food waste. There are several strategies that restaurants can use; more information is available in this NRDC packet.

Recycle food scraps. Compost (on-site, or organize delivery to a compost facility). You can also donate or sell food scraps for animal feed.

Food Vendors, Canteens, Cafeterias

Evaluate the extent of your food waste as a business. A guide to get started is available here. You can encourage the consumption of damaged or nearly expiring produce with discounts, offer small portions, or partner with local nonprofits to donate excess ingredients. Segregate food waste so that it can be composted or sent to waste-to-energy plants.

Follow the Food Recovery Hierarchy. Food-service businesses, such as hotels, hospitals, schools, and restaurants, can adopt the food recovery hierarchy to reduce large-scale food waste. Ideally, food waste should be reduced at the source by ensuring that produce stays fresher for longer and that food demand largely matches supply. Still, any surplus food can be used to feed underserved communities, or further downstream in animal feed industries, compost, or as a last resort, in landfills.

Explore food waste reduction options as food vendors. Add signage in dining halls, reevaluate portion sizes, and adjust menu sizes. You could also consider undertaking a waste audit to identify areas for improvement in your business model.


Set targets to cut food waste. In 2014, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to commercially ban food waste. The regulation states that any enterprise generating more than one ton of food waste a week has to find an alternative to disposal, such as donating produce to food banks or sending shipments to anaerobic energy digesters. Since the ban, overall food donation in the state has increased by 22 percent, and the collection for anaerobic digestion and composting has gone up by 70 percent. In 2018, Australia became the first country to set a target to cut food waste in half by 2030, and invested 1.2 million AUD to support food rescue organizations. Countries such as Norway, France, Italy, Denmark, Dubai, and South Korea have also implemented food waste campaigns. 

Run campaigns to change public behavior. Several campaigns, including “Love Food Hate Waste” in the UK and Singapore’s Towards Zero Waste, are already leading the charge in educating the public about avoidable food waste.

Set mandatory food waste reduction targets for food companies. To start off, set targets to reduce 50 percent of food waste in the first five years, with the end goal of eliminating all waste, including inedible food by-products. Ask food companies to report on their waste and even consider using fiscal incentives such as subsidies to prioritize redistributing surplus food to NGOs.

Support storage facilities and infrastructure to prevent postharvest losses. In developing countries especially, produce like fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish have a risk of getting spoiled, especially in hot climates, due to the lack of cold-storage infrastructure. Governments and multilateral agencies play a large role in allocating funding toward such infrastructure.

Bad Actors

Food retailers globally have an essential role to play in eliminating food waste. Some of the largest retailers that have a large influence on the supply chain are:

Walmart (USA): Doug McMillon is the CEO, and you can contact him at doug.mcmillon@walmart.com.

Costco Wholesale Corporation (USA): W. Craig Jelinek is CEO and former President and Director. His email is cjelinek@costco.com.

SEVENandi Holdings (Japan): Ryuichi Isaka is the Chairman, President and CEO. No publicly listed email exists, but the company can be contacted at +81-3-6238-3000.

Kroger (USA): Rodney McMullen is the CEO. His email is rodney.mcmullen@kroger.com.

Lidl (Germany): Dieter Schwarz is currently leading the company after the previous CEO stepped down. While his email is private, his foundation can be reached at info@dieter.schwarz-stiftung.de.

Aldi (Germany): Jason Hart is CEO of ALDI USA. His email is jason.hart@aldi.us.

Carrefour (France): Alexandre Bompard is the CEO. His email is not publicly listed, but the company can be contacted here.

AEON (Japan): Motoya Okada is the Chairman and Executive Officer. There is no publicly listed contact for his office, however, the company can be contacted through their website.

Tesco (UK): Ken Murphy is the CEO. His email is ken.murphy@uk.tesco.com.

Target (USA): Brian Cornell is the CEO. His email is brian.cornell@target.com.

Albertsons (USA): Vivek Sankaran is the CEO. His email is vivek.sankaran@albertsons.com.

Whole Foods (USA): Jason Buechel is the CEO. Here is his LinkedIn Profile.


Food waste can be solved and people all over the world are taking action. For a policy guide, refer to ReFED’s Roadmap to 2030.

  • Mumbai’s Dabbawalas are one such group leading the way with redistribution of surplus food, leveraging Mumbai’s hundred-year-old food delivery system.

Wasted Food Blog contains research and writing about food waste since 2015 by journalist Jonathan Bloom.

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future produces research on the nutritional content of wasted food and quantifies and maps food waste in the US, while also developing recommendations for food labeling and wider policy incentives.

EXPIRED is a film by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) about how misleading food labels are.

Food Loss and Waste Protocol is a multi-stakeholder initiative to account for food losses and waste globally

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