Food waste worldwide emits up to 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere – or about 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide per minute. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after China and the United States. A total of 1.3 million tons of food waste (i.e. food and drink thrown away that was, at some point prior to disposal, edible) was thrown away in 2018 in Sweden (one percent of the world’s food waste). This corresponds to an average of 133kg of waste per person in one year. Food waste occurs for a number of reasons – during production, whilst in the sales channels, or in households. A large part of the food waste in the grocery trade is made up by fully edible food that is thrown away due to over-orders — shelves are continuously filled, meaning older products, or products not fulfilling aesthetic criteria are removed or even crushed. This “surplus food” from stores and wholesalers is often fully edible and would not need to be thrown away – it should not have to become food waste.
ReWaste is a collaborative project where 50 companies and organizations develop methods to save edible food and reduce food waste in Sweden.
As a project partner in ReWaste, Axfoundation has contributed with knowledge, contacts and analysis, primarily in business modeling and communication work linked to desired behavioral changes among consumers and organizational representatives. The result of the project will be an important tool for large-scale decentralized redistribution of surplus food throughout Sweden. This is an important step in reducing unnecessary food waste, which is one of Axfoundation’s focus areas within the Circular Economy program area.
By showing that it is possible to cook good food from things that are often thrown away, we also hope to inspire students and restaurant guests to new ways of thinking. This is an educational effort in the change in attitude and behavior that is required to reduce food waste in Swedish households.
ReWaste aimed to reduce food waste in Sweden by developing efficient systems for redistributing surplus food. Together, project partners developed useful recommendations, guides and materials covering logistics, new business models, IT systems, as well as communication and behavioral changes, so that companies and organizations can easily set up their own redistribution systems.
Summarized lessons learned from 17 tests in 7 cities
- Logistics: Redistribution of surplus food works best when the store / wholesaler has personal direct contact with the receiving restaurant / school. The optimal delivery frequency is two days a week (preferably Monday and Thursday) and regularity is appreciated by everyone. Environmental calculations show that all modes of transport had a positive net impact, the CO2 footprint from the transports is small compared to what is reduced by redistributing the surplus food. Naturally, bicycles are better than motor vehicles, however as long as the transport is less than 70 km by car, the CO2 footprint for redistribution will be positive.
- Business models: The pilots in ReWaste show that it is difficult to find a purely profitable business model, partly because it takes time to sort out surplus food. When relatively high personnel costs are set against the low cost of waste management, the profit becomes difficult to realize. However, there are many other values that exceed the possible financial cost, not least linked to values, job satisfaction and communication opportunities.
- Communication: Easily accessible and attractive communication material is needed to make it easier for all parties to inform both customers and employees. In the ReWaste project, a number of guides were developed for store employees to facilitate communication with customers, as well as materials for school employees, and a series of webinars for other stakeholders. The project also produced a guide to help chefs and shops to collaborate on surplus food. (The material is available in Swedish)
- IT solutions: Efficient IT solutions are required to make it easier for both the store and the recipient to handle surplus food. The ReWaste project chose to collaborate with WhyWaste which already had established contacts with many stores to reduce their food waste. Via the digital platform, the surplus food is easily registered and an advance notice is delivered to the restaurant / school enabling them to prepare to make the best use of the food.
- Restaurant adaptation: To fully utilize the potential of surplus food, restaurants need to adapt and implement more flexible menus. An example is to use more general descriptions of dishes, such as writing “roots” instead of “carrots” and considering the food waste they receive as a side order rather than a main ingredient. The pilot project has received positive feedback from the restaurants; several chefs sees it as a fun creative challenge to use the surplus food. Several of the participating businesses have received additional job applications as a result of marketing that they are part of ReWaste.
To reduce food waste in a long-term and practically feasible way, many actors need to work together. The ReWaste project led by Chalmers Industriteknik, has worked together with approximately 50 partners (schools, municipalities, transport companies, courier companies, restaurants, shops, wholesalers and more). Together we have found solutions for logistics, new business models, IT systems, communication, as well as behavioral changes, to reduce food waste, both in stores and in the home environment. The project was run 2019 – 2021.