Wageningen University & Research Introduces Incentives to Combat Food Waste in the Chain

“Actually, all companies in the food chain want to waste less food, but in practice this is often quite difficult,” says Sanne Stroosnijder, Food Loss and Waste Prevention programme manager at Wageningen University & Research. “National figures show that we are not reducing food waste fast enough. Companies need more incentives to take action.”

In the Netherlands, about 25% of all food is thrown away, with huge consequences for climate and food security. The Dutch government aims to cut food waste by half by 2030. “We see a group of frontrunners, but unfortunately, the pack, i.e. the majority of companies, has not really got started yet,” says Stroosnijder. There are numerous reasons for this. Efforts are non-committal, sometimes one policy works against another, or the costs of different operational management or a new process are higher, for example when using residual streams for animal feed. “So there are many different incentives to keep wasting. We need to remove these and replace them with incentives that combat food waste.”

Back in April 2023, WUR wrote a report commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) on how the Netherlands can move faster towards halving food waste. Now Stroosnijder and her colleagues have produced eight concrete incentives targeting companies, such as the use of carbon crediting (putting a price tag on CO2 emissions) and a statutory requirement to include conditions on reducing food waste in catering tenders.

Mandatory self-reporting leads to action

If Stroosnijder were to recommend one of the eight incentives to the new cabinet, which would it be? Without a doubt: “mandatory self-reporting”. It is already mandatory in some European countries, but not yet in the Netherlands. “Self-reporting helps a company understand how much they waste and what they waste. Companies then also see the cost of waste in terms of raw materials, transport, packaging and employees working with products that are later discarded. Insight into these costs often gets them to act. Every company wants to cut costs while also reducing its climate impact. In our experience, 20 to 30 per cent reduction of food waste is easily achievable for most companies.”

To reduce waste even further, it is important to involve the entire food production chain from farmer to consumer. When catering for buffets at gatherings, for example, a lot can be gained if everyone feels responsible. Stroosnijder: “Caterers can adjust the range and quantity if they know how many people are coming. Event organisers can also help by properly assessing no-shows or installing fridges and having takeaway trays at the venue so that participants can take home any leftovers. This provides benefits for all parties, i.e. people, planet and profit.”