The retail sector, generating large amounts of food waste in a limited and well-defined number of locations, represents a unique opportunity for the implementation of waste minimisation policies targeting food waste and surplus food. France has introduced policy measures forcing retailers to prioritise the redistribution of surplus food to charity (donation) and/or diversion to animal feed. To evaluate the environmental benefits from such initiatives, this study provides a bottom-up consequential life cycle assessment of surplus food management at twenty retail outlets in France. A cradle-to-grave assessment was performed, including land-use changes, and the impacts were evaluated for ten impact categories. Four scenarios were considered, using monthly data on waste flows and management. Alongside assessing the current management (i.e. redistribution and/or use of surplus food for animal feed with anaerobic digestion and incineration of residual streams), three additional scenarios were evaluated: (i) prevention (used as benchmark), (ii) anaerobic digestion and (iii) incineration. The results demonstrated that redistribution leads to substantial environmental savings when accounting for all potentially induced benefits, second only to prevention but nevertheless of similar magnitude. Neither anaerobic digestion nor incineration can compete environmentally with redistribution and use as animal feed, especially in a low-carbon energy system. A cost analysis, including tax credits implemented in the French regulation, demonstrated that retailers donating high-value products also achieved lower costs and higher environmental savings overall. The results clearly suggest that similar initiatives should be encouraged, and the study offers a consistent basis for evaluating similar initiatives also for other countries.
- Food waste
- Waste hierarchy