Global food waste, from the harvesting to the consumer, every level of the food cycle is considered in this new report on food by the institute of mechanical engineers (Imeche). With a rapidly growing world population and finite resources, the central question arises: how to produce food in this challenging environment?
by Barbara Koole

The world is preparing to change, more and more voices are calling for a more conscious, more circular, more sustainable system. Different developments are leading towards the inevitable end of our neo-liberal, modernist system. Only think about the financial crisis, population growth, global warming, food, water and resource shortage. A new report by the institute of mechanical engineers (Imeche) about waste, argues that these issues are actually all linked together in the problems around global food waste. The question raised in the report is how to produce more food in a world of finite resources, because this level of food wastage is a tragedy.

Waste is thoroughly explored in the report and lights are shed on many different aspects of food waste. From the harvesting to the consumer, every level of the food cycle is considered. An interesting statement made is that as the development level of a country increases so does the level of the food loss. In Europe most food waste is created by stores, restaurants and consumers. In south-east Asia and Africa it often occurs that most of the food is already wasted during the harvest or due to bad storage. This of course doesn’t mean that no food is wasted at the other levels of the food cycle, but often due to different reasons. Whereas harvest waste in newly developing countries* is often caused by inefficient use of land, machines or technology, harvest waste in fully developed countries is often because of commercial reasons.As this report is written by mechanical engineers, attention is paid to the role of engineering in creating solutions for food wastage. Developing more efficient machinery for different levels of the food cycle might very well help reduce the amount of food waste. A pledge is made for engineers, scientists and agriculturalists to work together and share knowledge, practices and sustainable approaches with the rest of society. This is a challenging goal!


Although the analysis of the waste problems in the global food industry is very comprehensive, the recommendations made at the end of the report do, in our eyes, miss out on an important point. The content of their recommendations is not the point, the approach is. The main actors Imeche calls upon strategic reactions from national governments. However, all over the world more and more initiatives show how bottom-up governance and initiatives by citizens are often the most innovative and successful solutions for societal problems. This is not mentioned in the Imeche report. One of the remarks made by Imeche is that in their opinion the concentration of the world population in cities adds to the waste of food because people lose their connection to and knowledge about the food cycle. To bring this connection back, we shouldn’t rely only on governments that do the job: we are in need of citizens participation and awareness raising campaigns.

Several eye-opening facts:

– As a country develops food preservation usually moves from canning and drying to cooling and freezing, which is way less energy efficient.

– Did you know that potatoes, peanuts and onions are the most water efficient crops?

For more information: Global Food Report, We Own The City, Food Guerrilla 

*terms used by imeche

About the author

Barbara Koole


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