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Ramanathan, R.; Ramanathan, U.; Pelc, K.; Hermens, I. Reducing Food Waste. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 14 April 2024).
Ramanathan R, Ramanathan U, Pelc K, Hermens I. Reducing Food Waste. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 14, 2024.
Ramanathan, Ramakrishnan, Usha Ramanathan, Katarzyna Pelc, Imke Hermens. "Reducing Food Waste" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 14, 2024).
Ramanathan, R., Ramanathan, U., Pelc, K., & Hermens, I. (2024, February 28). Reducing Food Waste. In Encyclopedia.
Ramanathan, Ramakrishnan, et al. "Reducing Food Waste." Encyclopedia. Web. 28 February, 2024.
Reducing Food Waste

Food waste is a serious global problem. Efforts to reduce food waste are closely linked to the concepts of circular economy and sustainability.

food supply chains food waste circular economy

1. Introduction

Food waste is a serious global problem. It has close links with the concepts of circular economy (CE) and sustainability. From a CE point of view, food waste is a kind of waste that needs attention in terms of the 4Rs, namely reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover [1]. Waste prevention is an integral part of CE approaches [2][3]. In terms of sustainability, food waste has economic, environmental, and social implications. In this sense, saving food waste contributes to several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
From an operations management (OM) point of view, food waste can be reduced or eliminated via productivity improvement and lean mechanisms. The food waste sector faces huge challenges in their supply chains [4]. Any food waste that is unavoidable can then be reused or recycled in a suitable way to complete the CE cycle before the food quality deteriorates. Several initiatives have been considered to reduce and avoid food waste.
The term circular economy (CE) is generally defined as the practices aimed at maximizing resource efficiency in organizations [5]. Geissdoerfer et al. [6] defines it as “a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimised by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling.” (Page 759). By focusing on resource circularity and optimization, CE practices contribute to increasing productivity [7][8].
The European Commission has pioneered the ideas of CE in its action plan [9], where it highlights three areas for a sustainable policy framework—designing sustainable products, empowering consumers, and implementing circularity principles in production processes. In their action plan, among other targets, they have committed to targeted food waste reduction. A CE perspective will identify opportunities that extend a product’s own life cycle (e.g., via product repair), the life of its constituent parts (e.g., refurbishing or remanufacturing), or find use for the materials in the product at the end of its life cycle (e.g., recycling). From a CE point of view, waste prevention is an integral part of CE approaches [2] and needs attention in terms of the 4Rs, namely reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover [1].
The literature on CE usually focuses on business models for achieving the desired CE outcomes (e.g., Ref. [10]). Using a multiple case study approach, Vermunt et al. [1] link the 4R framework (reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover) of the CE with important CE business models—the product-as-a-service model, product life extension model, resource recovery model, circular supplies model, and hybrid models. They observe that supply chain-related barriers are not prevalent in product-as-a-service business models. In a similar study, De Angelis and Feola [11] have used a single case study approach to underline the salient characteristics of circular economy based on the ReSOLVE (regenerate, share, optimize, loop, virtualize, and exchange) framework of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

2. Circular Economy and Food Waste

As per WRAP [12], nearly one-third of produced food is lost or wasted. This provides an adequate background for applying CE principles in the food industry. When CE ideas are applied to the food industry, the effort is to reduce, recycle, or reuse food waste, or recover value from food waste that cannot be either recycled or reused. Reducing food waste improves the financial bottom-line for food companies and increases food availability with societal benefits. Food waste that ends up in landfills emits significant greenhouse gases and hence reducing food waste has significant environmental benefits. Thus, a circular economy business model aimed at zero food waste in circular food supply chains will be able to reach all the three pillars of sustainability [13]. Thus, saving food waste contributes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).
Thus, tackling food waste will help improve circularity and sustainability significantly. Food waste is further linked to various CE aspects such as reverse logistics, remanufacturing, servitization (or product–service systems), and sustainable supply chain management. Food waste reduction, like the focus of CE-based studies, can help organizations improve their environmental performance (e.g., waste reduction, pollution reduction, and improved ecological/carbon footprint), financial performance (e.g., profitability and economic efficiency), operational performance (e.g., productivity, product quality, and attractiveness), and social performance (health, employee morale, increased employment, and improved food security) [5].
Food waste can occur in multiple ways—at the upstream level by the producer at the production site, at the downstream level by consumers, and in between when food is moved along supply chains. There are huge consumer-behavior studies focusing on how to change the behavior and lifestyle of consumers to facilitate the reduction and complete elimination of food waste at the consumer level. Productivity studies at farms and food manufacturing plants are focusing on the upstream level. However, food waste in supply chains is a relatively unexplored area. While waste minimization in general has been a hot topic in sustainability research, understanding the mechanisms by which food companies reduce food waste in their supply chains is a relatively less explored topic. This finding has been confirmed by Kalmykova et al. [2], who, based on a literature review, observe that manufacturing and distributions are not widely studied in the context of CE. One reason for the relative under-exploration of food waste in supply chains could be because food waste that occurs in supply chains is generally considered as an unavoidable food loss [13].

3. Food Waste in Circular Food Supply Chains

Food waste is a global problem and has significant economic, environmental, social, and ethical implications. Nearly one-third of produced food ends up as waste [12]. It has been estimated that the EU produces around 88 million tons of food waste annually, equivalent to EUR 143 billion, highlighting the economic impacts of food waste. Food waste in other parts of the world paint an equally, if not more, bleak picture. Using a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), it has been estimated that food waste alone is responsible for 8–10% of global GHG emissions.
The EU has committed to halving food waste by 2030. Target 12.3 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals has called for halving global food waste by 2030. Several research studies have been carried out with a view to achieving these ambitious targets. For example, research studies are being conducted about when, where, and how much food waste occurs (e.g., Ref. [12]).
Based on the work from a project named FUSIONS, Parry et al. [14] have stressed the importance of preventing food waste in the first place. As per their calculations, the redistribution of food to people before it becomes waste will save 3090 kg of CO2 equivalent per ton of food waste. This prevention strategy is the best strategy to fight food waste and associated greenhouse gas emissions. The calculations from their report provide very valuable information about options for treating food waste and can be linked to the 4R principles of CE. Thus, redistributing food to people before the food becomes waste is the best option, as it has the potential for saving a very high level of carbon emissions. Converting the food to animal feed is the next best option, saving 220 kg CO2 equivalent per ton of food waste. Sending food waste to landfills is the least preferred option, as this will generate additional GHG emissions in landfills (about 536 kg per ton of food waste).
About 20–30 percent of food waste in food businesses occur in their supply chains– when the food is being transported or stored from the production to the final consumers [14]. A part of this loss is due to improper food storage conditions—temperature, humidity, etc.—when food produce is on the move (e.g., in a truck) or in an intermediate warehouse [15][16][17][18]. The appropriate treatment (i.e., reduce, reuse, recycle, or recover) of food waste will help food supply chains move from being linear to circular, and enable them to create circular food supply chains (CFSCs).


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  2. Kalmykova, Y.; Sadagopan, M.; Rosado, L. Circular economy—From review of theories and practices to development of implementation tools. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 2018, 135, 190–201.
  3. WRAP. WRAP and the Circular Economy, Waste & Resources Action Programme. 2021. Available online: (accessed on 30 December 2021).
  4. Akkerman, R.; Buisman, M.; Cruijssen, F.; de Leeuw, S.; Haijema, R. Dealing with donations: Supply chain management challenges for food banks. Int. J. Prod. Econ. 2023, 262, 108926.
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  6. Geissdoerfer, M.; Savaget, P.; Bocken, N.M.; Hultink, E.J. The Circular Economy—A new sustainability paradigm? J. Clean. Prod. 2017, 143, 757–768.
  7. Missemer, A. Natural Capital as an economic concept, history and contemporary issues. Ecol. Econ. 2018, 143, 90–96.
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  13. Ramanathan, R.; Duan, Y.; Ajmal, T.; Pelc, K.; Gillespie, J.; Ahmadzadeh, S.; Condell, J.; Hermens, I.; Ramanathan, U. Motivations and challenges for food companies in using IoT sensors for reducing food waste: Some insights and a road map for the future. Sustainability 2023, 15, 1665.
  14. Parry, A.; James, K.; LeRoux, S. Strategies to Achieve Economic and Environmental Gains by Reducing Food Waste, Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). 2015. ISBN 978-1-84405-473-2. Available online: (accessed on 4 January 2022).
  15. Gillespie, J.; da Costa, T.P.; Cama-Moncunill, X.; Cadden, T.; Condell, J.; Cowderoy, T.; Ramsey, E.; Murphy, F.; Kull, M.; Gallagher, R.; et al. Real-time anomaly detection in cold chain transportation using IoT technology. Sustainability 2023, 15, 2255.
  16. Maiyar, L.M.; Ramanathan, R.; Roy, I.; Ramanathan, U. A decision support model for cost-effective choice of temperature-controlled transport of fresh food. Sustainability 2023, 15, 6821.
  17. Ramanathan, U.; Ramanathan, R.; Adefisan, A.; Da Costa, T.; Cama-Moncunill, X.; Samriya, G. Adapting digital technologies to reduce food waste and improve operational efficiency of a frozen food company—The case of Yumchop Foods in the UK. Sustainability 2022, 14, 16614.
  18. Ramanathan, U.; Pelc, K.; da Costa, T.P.; Ramanathan, R.; Shenker, N. A case study of human milk banking with focus on the role of IoT sensor technology. Sustainability 2022, 15, 243.
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