The fact that food waste is a big problem is (or at least, should be) already well known. But hearing just how much food is wasted can be sobering. A new doctoral study from Sweden offers a nationwide view of how much bread is wasted every year — and how this food waste could be prevented.
“We have made calculations of the amount of bread waste, analysed the reasons behind it, and suggested solutions. Then we evaluated this in relation to potential environmental savings,” said Pedro Brancoli the lead study author.
The project wasn’t focused on bread initially. It mostly aimed to quantify food waste in general and assess what products were most often discarded and placed the biggest burden on the environment. Surprisingly, researchers found that bread — which has not been considered to be a significant waste source before — accounted for much of the environmental damage. The numbers are striking, Brancoli explains.
“We could establish that large amounts of bread are wasted in Sweden. To be more precise, 80,000 tons per year, or about 8 kg per person and year. The current bread distribution system also proved to be a significant source of bread waste. But we were also able to show that the bread that is wasted actually has a significant value,” he explained.
Globally, around a third of all the food produced is wasted, and food waste accounts for 6% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. There are few reliable statistics on bread waste, though some estimates place bread waste at around 30%.
The fact that there’s so much bread could, however, be a blessing in disguise. Bread waste can be used as a raw material to produce a number of different products, Brancoli explains. From animal feed, ethanol, or beer, to the substrate for fungus growth, bread can be used in a number of different applications.
“These alternatives have great potential to reduce the environmental impact in terms of the bread life cycle,” Brancoli said.
He envisions a more circular lifecycle for bread, with products being used for something else instead of simply being discarded. However, in order for that to happen, we need more cooperation between companies across the entire food chain — from wheat-growing to packaging and distribution. In addition to reducing the negative environmental impact, this can also help companies save money long term, the researcher believes.
Ultimately, Brancoli hopes his PhD thesis can start an important conversation around food waste.
“About a third of all food produced is lost on the way from farm to table. This leads to not only an environmental impact, but also unnecessary economic costs and social consequences through reduced access to food. This has led to an increased political and public debate on the need to address food waste, while at the same time increasing interest in the environmental, economic, and social effects it causes,” the researcher concludes.
The PhD thesis was published here.