Environmental impacts of food waste: Learnings and challenges from a case study on UK

Davide Tonini*, Paola Federica Albizzati, Thomas Fruergaard Astrup

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Food waste, particularly when avoidable, incurs loss of resources and considerable environmental impacts due to the multiple processes involved in the life cycle. This study applies a bottom-up life cycle assessment method to quantify the environmental impacts of the avoidable food waste generated by four sectors of the food supply chain in United Kingdom, namely processing, wholesale and retail, food service, and households. The impacts were quantified for ten environmental impact categories, from Global Warming to Water Depletion, including indirect land use change impacts due to demand for land. The Global Warming impact of the avoidable food waste was quantified between 2000 and 3600 kg CO2-eq. t−1. The range reflected the different compositions of the waste in each sector. Prominent contributors to the impact, across all the environmental categories assessed, were land use changes and food production. Food preparation, for households and food service sectors, also provided an important contribution to the Global Warming impacts, while waste management partly mitigated the overall impacts by incurring significant savings when landfilling was replaced with anaerobic digestion and incineration. To further improve these results, it is recommended to focus future efforts on providing improved data regarding the breakdown of specific food products within the mixed waste, indirect land use change effects, and the share of food waste undergoing cooking. Learning from this and previous studies, we highlight the challenges related to modelling and methodological choices. Particularly, food production datasets should be chosen and used carefully, to avoid double counting and overestimation of the final impacts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWaste Management
Volume76
Pages (from-to)744-766
ISSN0956-053X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords

  • Avoidable food waste
  • Land use changes
  • iLUC
  • Carbon footprint
  • Waste management
  • Uncertainty

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