On the Measurement of Food Waste

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Abstract

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one-quarter to one-third of all the food produced worldwide is wasted. We develop a simple framework to systematically think about food waste based on the life cycle of a typical food item. Based on our framework, we identify problems with extant measures of food waste and propose a more consistent and practical approach. In so doing, we first show that the widely cited, extant measures of the quantity and value of food waste are inconsistent with one another and overstate the problem of food waste. By misdirecting and misallocating some of the resources that are currently put into food waste reduction efforts, this overstatement of the problem could have severe consequences for public policy. Our framework then allows documenting the points of intervention for policies aimed at reducing the extent of food waste in the life cycle of food and the identification of interdependencies between potential policy levers.

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