Avoiding food waste is an opportunity to reduce our ecological foodprint.

A post by Adèle Garret

Figure 1: an artistic rendering of the topic of food waste that was created by prompting DALLE-2 (https://openai.com/product/dall-e-2) with “A photorealistic image of the topic of food waste and its ecological footprint”.

You know the score – it is estimated that a quarter to half of the food we produce worldwide is wasted or lost [1]. This makes reducing food waste and loss a key component in reducing food insecurity and in achieving the reduction of human impact on water use, land use, and the climate [1; 2].

Where does it happen?

In many world-regions, climate conditions, inadequate storage conditions and poor transportation methods lead to food being lost [1]. In Switzerland however, most of the waste happens during processing (35%). Households are responsible for about 28% of the waste, while the gastronomy accounts for 7% of food waste. Wholesale and retail waste around 10% of food, while agriculture is responsible for approximately 20% of the total food loss [2].

What is the environmental impact?

Avoidable food loss amounts to 25% of the nutrition-related footprint and accounts for 24 % of the climate impact of the Swiss food system [4]. Food that is not used, indirectly wastes the resources that were used to produce it [1] and has environmental impacts [2]. As an example, consider the sightly rotten apple you threw away: it needs to be produced twice, because you wish to eat the perfect apple. Logical consequence, the further out in the value chain the waste happens, the worst the environmental impact [3].

What can be done against it?

Since April 2022, Switzerland has set up an action plan that involves corporations, the public sector, federations, and associations [8] while initiatives such as https://foodwaste.ch/ do a great job at raising consumers’ awareness. Wasted food is a lost opportunities to save CO2 emissions, to preserve biodiversity and to increase both worldwide and national food security. By combining a reduction of wasted food with a change for a more plant-based – and thus less resource-intensive- diet we can change our food systems for the best [7].

This blog post was written in spring 2023 as part of the module “Welternährungssysteme” in the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering at the ZHAW Institute of Natural Resource Sciences.


  1. Guo, X., Broeze, J., Groot, J. J., Axmann, H., & Vollebregt, M. (2020). A worldwide hotspot analysis on food loss and waste, associated greenhouse gas emissions, and protein losses. Sustainability, 12(18), 7488. https://edepot.wur.nl/532420
  2. Hensel K. (2021, December 22). Why Reducing Food Loss and Waste Matters – IFT.org. https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/digital-exclusives/why-reducing-food-loss-and-waste-matters
  3. FAO. (2019). The state of the food and agriculture. Moving Forward on Food Loss and Waste reduction. https://www.fao.org/3/CA6030EN/CA6030EN.pdf
  4. Beretta, C., & Hellweg, S. (2019). Lebensmittelverluste in der Schweiz: Umweltbelastung und Vermeidungspotential. Institut für Umweltingenieurwissenschaften: Zurich, Switzerland.
  5. Chapagain, A., & James, K. (2013). Accounting for the impact of food waste on water resources and climate change. Food industry wastes, 217-236.
  6. Springmann, M., Clark, M., Mason-D’Croz, D., Wiebe, K., Bodirsky, B. L., Lassaletta, L., … & Willett, W. (2018). Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature, 562(7728), 519-525. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0594-0
  7. Cattaneo, A., Federighi, G., & Vaz, S. (2021). The environmental impact of reducing food loss and waste: A critical assessment. Food Policy, 98, 101890. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2020.101890.
  8. BAFU. (2022). Aktionsplan gegen die Lebensmittelverschwendung. https://www.bafu.admin.ch/dam/bafu/de/dokumente/abfall/externe-studien-berichte/aktionsplan_gegen_die_lebensmittelverschwendung.pdf.download.pdf/Aktionsplan%20gegen%20die%20Lebensmittelverschwendung.pdf

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