One of the major challenges faced during the implementation of food waste reduction strategies was changing public behavior and mindsets around food. For many years, most people have viewed excess food as unimportant and not given much thought to wasting it. Things like clearing one’s plate, over-ordering at restaurants, or throwing out old leftovers and expired foods were ingrained habits. Shifting such habitual behaviors requires a significant mindset change, which can be difficult to achieve. It requires sustained education campaigns to raise awareness of the issue and its impacts, as well as motivation for people to adjust their daily food-related routines and habits.
Another behavioral challenge is that reducing food waste often requires more planning and coordination within households. Things like meticulously planning out meals, sticking to grocery lists, adjusting portion sizes, and making better use of leftovers necessitates more effort and time compared to past habits. While improving skills like meal planning, it is an adjustment that not everyone finds easy to make. For families with both parents working long hours, seeking convenience is also an understandable priority, leaving little time or energy for meticulous waste-reduction efforts.
From a business and operations perspective, one challenge is the lack of reliable data on food waste amounts. Most organizations, whether food manufacturers, grocery retailers or food service companies, have historically not tracked the scale of food that gets wasted within their facilities and supply chains. Without robust baseline data, it is difficult to analyze root causes, identify priorities and set meaningful targets for improvement. Some have also been hesitant to publicly share waste data for risk of reputational damage. The lack of common measurement standards has made industry-wide benchmarking and goal setting a challenge.
On the policy front, the mixed competencies shared between different levels and departments of government have made coordinated action difficult. Food waste touches on the responsibilities of agriculture, environment, waste collection, business regulations, public awareness campaigns and more. There is sometimes lack of clarity on who should take the lead, and duplication or gaps can occur between different actors. The complexity with multiple stakeholders across many domains further impedes swift, aligned policy progress to drive systemic changes.
Even when strategies are set, enforcement is a big challenge especially related to food date labeling policies. Standardizing and simplifying date labels to distinguish between ‘Best Before’ – indicating quality rather than safety – and ‘Use By’ date is an important intervention. Inconsistent application of new labeling rules by some in the vast food industry has undermined the effectiveness of this policy change to reduce consumer confusion and subsequent waste. Stronger compliance mechanisms are needed.
From a technological standpoint, while innovative solutions are emerging, scaling these up to have meaningful impact requires extensive investments of time and capital. Food redistribution through apps needs to overcome challenges like adequate coverage, logistical issues in arranging pick ups, necessity of refrigerated transportation, and standardizing quality parameters of donor and recipient organizations. Similarly, food waste valorization is still at a nascent, experimental phase with challenges of developing financially viable business models at commercial scale. These solutions are also capital intensive to set up advanced processing facilities.
Even simple measures like home composting have faced adoption challenges due to requirements like space, installation efforts, maintenance skills and concerns over pests and smells. Compostable packaging is not universally available and green bins for food scrap collection are not scaled up widely in all geographies to make participation easy. Expanded waste collection infrastructure requires substantial capital allocations by local governments already facing budget constraints.
From a supply chain coordination perspective, a key challenge is data and technology integration across the long and complex path food takes from farms to processing units to transport networks to retailers to finally consumers. Lack of end-to-end visibility impedes root cause analysis of where and why waste is originating. It also restricts opportunities for collaborative optimization of inventory, ordering and demand planning practices to minimize food left unconsumed at any stage. Silos between different entities and lack of incentives for open data sharing have hampered integrated solutions.
Reducing food waste faces behavioral, operational, policy-related, technological, financial as well as supply chain coordination challenges. It requires multifaceted, long-term efforts spanning awareness drives, standardized measurement, supportive regulations, scaled infrastructure, collaborative innovation and adaptability to local conditions. The complexity of root causes necessitates system-wide cooperation between industry, governments, researchers and communities to achieve meaningful impact over time. While progress has been made, continued dedication of resources and coordination between different stakeholders remains important to sustain momentum in tackling this massive global issue.