As well as many other human-life-related matters, also alimentary practices and choices are often highly influenced by the dynamics of commerce and advertisement.
Notwithstanding, a new wave of awareness is making its way through modern societies in regards to the so-called “food system”, meaning the path that goes from food production to its usage and – often, unfortunately, waste. Social innovation practices could improve the quality of human perception of and relation to food, such as the improvement of the quality of the products, a wider range of nutrients, reduction of food waste, and the allowance of equity of access to food goods.
The ethical and social impact of food waste is one of the biggest and most crucial issues in our society, leaving aside the dangerous environmental and economic consequences that come from it. Food poverty, food insecurity, hunger, excessive consumption of natural resources, greenhouse gas, and loss of biodiversity – are just a few examples of negative outcomes originating from food waste.
The importance of social innovation practices
International organizations are attempting to solve food waste-related matters by implementing social innovation practices. Their understanding of social innovation is of new ideas that meet social needs, create social relationships and form new collaborations. Being through products, services, or any other model that addresses the unmet needs of society, these innovative actions are driven by relevant actors. For instance, as they attempt to satisfy needs and respond to problems in society, observation of established practices is crucial and fundamental. The potential of their impact is evident when their innovation becomes socially accepted and diffused in society, then eventually becomes institutionalized as a new social norm. That is the extent to which such practices are considered social.
Therefore, social innovations could be considered an ideal solution to the food wastage matter for they not only can control it but also change the mainstream mentality widespread in society towards the matter. Reducing food wastage will be crucial to diminish its current environmental, social, and economic consequences, and influence the system with innovative good practices.
International measures and actions
That is the framework within which the September 2015 United Nations Agenda 2030 was launched. It includes the establishment of 17 sustainable development goals set to achieve various goals in a matter of economic growth, social integration, and environmental practices. Goal number 12 works in the direction of finding solutions to “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” within which, target 12.3 is referring specifically to Food waste: “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” (United Nations 2015). Reducing food waste by 50% would not only decrease greenhouse gas emissions but also produce benefits for human health by safeguarding food security, the usage of natural resources, and its pauperization.
In this direction, the European Parliament’s Resolution of 19 January 2012 on “how to avoid food waste: strategies for a more efficient food chain in the EU” (2011/2175 (INI)) outlined the need to promote locally based good practices to reduce food wastage. Parallel to this normative work, in 2012, the EU-funded project “Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies” (FUSIONS; www.eu-fusions.org/) created a European platform of multiple actors pursuing the prevention of food wastage through social innovation solutions. Other initiatives in this direction are Save Food Initiative by FAO; Think Eat Save by UNEP and FAO; Food Waste Protocol by World Resources Institute; the Circular Economy Package and Directive (EU) 2018/851 by the European Commission (EC) (European Commission 2015, 2020).
Within the framework of the FUSION project recommendations, a highlight was put on the need to stimulate social innovation as a fundamental key tool able to reduce food wastage. The main lines of action that the program pursues are:
- Create a favorable legislative framework at the European and national levels that stimulates social innovation, especially in the key aspects: of food distribution, food safety, environmental health, commercial regulations, and taxation.
- Develop guidelines for political intervention that promote social innovation to support food wastage reduction.
- Develop guidelines to promote the economic sustainability of the different innovative social actions.
- Encourage the creation and extension of a food surplus exchange network through exchanging social innovation and good practices.
European Commission reinforced the initiative to create communication platforms among different agents through the communication on “Closing the loop — An EU action plan for the Circular Economy” (COM (2015) 614 final) promoting the creation of a platform dedicated to food wastage. This appears as a place where good practices and experiences can be shared, and also serves as a means to create new initiatives.
Examples of good practices
Once again, technology and digital tools happen to be useful sources for accomplishing the FUSION project resolutions. Some of the good practices that used socio-digital innovation in the prevention of food waste emphasized that it is possible to link food supply with demand, both between citizens and citizens (OLIO) or companies and citizens (TooGoodToGo). Besides this, the case of WINNOW shows that simply measuring food wastage in a company generates social, environmental, and economic benefits. The project demonstrates that environmental protection is all but at odds with job creation.
However, creating networks among local people with the clear ethical purpose of self-organizing and achieving positive outcomes for the territory resulted in terms of positive outcomes. That would be the case for Foodsharing, an initiative meant to avoid food wastage and create the possibility of sharing the surpluses between neighbors.
Old traditions also came in handy, as the two innovation campaigns, Feedback and Espigoladors, based in UK and Catalonia (Spain) respectively, and promoting this age-old tradition that involves citizens collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields that would otherwise rot on the ground. One of these campaigns has succeeded in improving the legal framework conditions for fostering gleaning activities within the territory as a useful way of reducing current food wastage ratios.
Changing the current food chain should happen through a combination of diverse social innovative solutions to modify local contexts in line with the ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’ principle. No single solution can solve this problem and actions must be undertaken at different levels. However, improving the dialogue between different actors involved in this matter could result in the creation of a European and national regulatory framework that could encourage the implementation and development of these innovative initiatives. This will be an essential aspect of consolidating social innovation as a key element for reducing current food wastage.