Food waste in Switzerland

A total of 2.6 million tonnes of food waste (fresh matter) is generated in Switzerland annually. Two thirds of this is avoidable, meaning that the food is still edible by the time it is discarded. That equates to around 190kg of edible food wasted for every person in the country each year. Food losses occur throughout the production and marketing chain (value chain), from processing immediately after harvesting through to consumer households, via the supply chain and retail trade.    

Food Waste
© Shutterstock

With a 28% share, nutrition contributes significantly to Switzerland's overall environmental impact, as noted in the Federal Council report "Environment Switzerland 2018". Producing food that is not consumed results in unnecessary CO2 emissions, biodiversity loss and land and water consumption. In addition to the ecological impacts, food waste also has far-reaching economic consequences. Discarded food generates costs all along the value chain, which are reflected in the final prices of food consumed in Switzerland. Switzerland has made a political commitment to reduce food waste and food losses by 2030. To meet this goal, the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) began by investigating food waste along the entire value chain. 

 

Identifying food waste from farm to fork

Since 2013, the FOEN has been working with the agriculture, food and catering industries as well as retailers and households to collect data on food waste. In five studies, it has identified all the food lost or discarded along the value chain from farm to fork.

Food waste also occurs in foods produced and processed abroad for consumption in Switzerland, but this waste is not included in the studies. The FOEN publishes the figures both in tonnes of fresh matter and in tonnes of dry matter. 

 
Total amount of food waste in Switzerland from the perspective of disposal (fresh matter)
Total amount of food waste in Switzerland from the perspective of disposal (measured in tonnes of fresh matter)
© FOEN

The analyses show that around 43% of the 1.7 million tonnes of avoidable food waste occurs in the food industry and 28% in private households. The data paint a comprehensive picture not only of the quantities of avoidable and unavoidable food waste in all sectors but also of its disposal. Of the 2.6 million tonnes of total food waste, around half is processed into recycled fertilisers and soil conditioners or converted into biogas for energy generation. 31% is turned into animal feed and around 21% is sent for thermal treatment in waste incineration plants (WIPs), where the waste is incinerated and the released energy harnessed. A small proportion of still edible food is donated.

The analyses also suggest possible causes of food waste and ways to prevent it. The following five sections briefly summarise the findings for each sector. The studies can be downloaded (in German) via the links at the end of the sections. 

 

 

By recycling method

Thermal treatment

Material recycling/energy recovery Animal feed Donated Total

Agriculture

2,000

173,000

49,500

 

224,500

Food industry

28,500

190,000

722,000

9,500

950,000

Retail trade

3,000

84,000

8,000

5,000

100,000

Catering

29,000

255,200

4,350

1,450

290,000

Households

480,000

520,000

 

 

1,000,000

Total

542,500

1,222,000

783,850

15,950

2,564,500

Total amount of food waste in Switzerland from the perspective of disposal
Figures in tonnes of fresh matter

Agriculture

Of the food produced by Swiss agriculture for human consumption, almost 225,000 tonnes (fresh matter) is not used for its intended purpose and ends up as food waste. Around 173,000 tonnes of this waste consists of harvest residues that are applied to the fields as fertilisers or soil conditioners, either immediately or after fermentation. A further 49,500 tonnes consists of harvest residues or harvest waste that is fed to livestock and thus kept in the food production cycle. Around 1% of the waste (some 2,000 tonnes) is sent for thermal treatment in WIPs. In total, approximately three quarters of food waste in agriculture (200,000 tonnes) could be avoided. The main causes of these food losses are current industry standards, downstream industries, technical conditions and inappropriate storage. Extrapolating the cost of goods based on a standard value of 3 Swiss francs (CHF) per kilo, the agriculture industry loses approximately CHF 600 million a year from avoidable food waste. 

 

Food industry

Total food waste across all sectors of the food industry is around 950,000 tonnes. Approximately a quarter of this is unavoidable, comprising inedible components or edible residues for which there is no consumer demand such as vegetable peelings or bones. The quantity of avoidable food waste is around 715,000 tonnes. These figures are taken from a study involving a material flow analysis that breaks down food waste by industry sector. This shows that the tuber processing industry (potatoes, for example) generates the most food waste, at around 388,000 tonnes. However, this sector also has the highest proportion of inedible components, at just under 70%. The smallest amount of waste is incurred by the cereals and bakeries sector, with just over 43,000 tonnes.

The two main reasons for the losses are:

  • the lack of sales markets for by-products such as bran;
  • current technology: the food is edible but the waste cannot be avoided with current technology.

The bulk of the food waste incurred (around 75%) is fed to livestock and thus remains in the food production cycle. Around 20% is converted to energy (biogas) or recycled as compost. Only a small proportion (less than 3%) goes to WIPs for thermal treatment. Donated and downgraded goods account for a very small percentage (under 1%). 

 

Organische Verluste aus der Lebensmittelindustrie in der Schweiz (PDF, 3 MB, 16.10.2016)Massenflussanalyse nach Branchen. Ursachen/Verwertung. Wissenschaftlicher Schlussbericht ZHAW im Auftrag des BAFU

Retail trade

For the purposes of this study, the term 'major distributors' refers expressly to branches of Coop, Migros, Aldi, Lidl, Denner, Spar and Volg. According to the study, the Swiss retail trade and wholesale distributors generate around 100,000 tonnes of food waste in total each year. Around 95% of this could be avoided. The majority of this waste falls into the 'unsold food' category, with distribution losses accounting for most of the waste (oversupply, storage or warehouse planning and transport).

Disposing of 95,000 tonnes of edible, and therefore avoidable, food waste costs the retail trade an estimated CHF 10 million a year (fermentation and composting). Adding in the costs of the goods themselves, based on an average basket price of CHF 6.50 per kilo, the major distributors lose over half a billion francs per year. Around 97% of annual food waste in the wholesale and retail trade is donated, used to produce animal feed, recycled or converted into energy. 3% is disposed of thermally in WIPs for epidemiological reasons.

 

Catering

The FOEN report 'Nahrungsmittelverluste im Detailhandel und in der Gastronomie in der Schweiz' divides the catering industry into cafés/restaurants and hotel kitchens, in-flight catering, medical and socio-medical establishments, school and company catering, and military barracks. The largest percentage of food waste occurs in cafés/restaurants and hotel kitchens, which in Switzerland account for 290,000 tonnes per year, or 7 tonnes per kitchen. This equates to 124 grams per meal, made up of raw organic waste and leftover food. Across the catering industry as a whole, most avoidable waste is assumed to be caused by distribution losses (preparation of too much food) and preference losses (plate leftovers). Around 68% of total waste, up to 200,000 tonnes per year, could be avoided. The equivalent of 90% of annual food waste in the catering industry is recycled or converted into energy, being used to produce biodiesel, biogas and compost. The equivalent of 10% is disposed of thermally in WIPs.

Disposing of edible, and therefore avoidable, food waste costs the catering industry an estimated CHF 20 million a year (fermentation and composting). Adding in the costs of the goods themselves, based on a standard value of CHF 5.50 per kilo, the catering industry incurs costs of around a billion francs a year.

 

Private consumption by households

Swiss households generate around one million tonnes of food waste every year, just under half of which (around 480,000 tonnes) ends up in general refuse and is incinerated. Approximately 170,000 tonnes of food waste is collected separately and recycled into fertiliser or biogas. The remainder, just under 350,000 tonnes, is disposed of either through home composting or animal feed. Almost half of the total food waste is avoidable. This means that in each household, some 60kg of food waste per person could be prevented every year. The main reasons for the high level of household food waste are a general lack of awareness of the waste generated and of the value of food, insufficient knowledge about shelf life and storage, as well as insufficient knowledge about ways to make use of leftover food. The FOEN's analysis also shows that good green waste infrastructure provided by local municipalities, with separate collections, helps to significantly reduce households' food waste by making them more aware of what they are throwing away.
Reports: 

 

Environmental impact of food waste

Avoiding food waste is inherently beneficial to the environment as food production uses resources such as land, water and energy, which has an adverse effect on biodiversity and the climate.

However, the environmental impact of one tonne of food waste varies greatly depending on its constituent products and where it occurs in the value chain. The priority should be to avoid food waste involving products or product categories that cause particularly high environmental impacts (see table) or that generate large quantities of waste. 

 

Priorities for food waste prevention

Products and product groups

1

Top priority
(products with the highest environmental impact)

- Beef

- Coffee and cocoa

- Butter

- Other types of meat, fish, cheese, eggs

- Nuts, seeds, dried fruits

- Citrus fruits, bananas, grapes

- Products imported by airplane

2

High priority

(products with high environmental impact)

- Vegetable oils and fats

- Dairy products such as yoghurt, quark and cream

- Rice

- Products grown in greenhouses heated with fossil fuels

3

Lower priority

- Other products: potatoes, sugar, local and seasonal fruits and vegetables, pulses, breads and pastries, milk/whey

Table 1: Prioritisation of products and product groups based on their environmental FOEN 2017

Food waste at the end of the value chain (households, catering industry, retail trade) has a higher environmental impact, on average, than food waste incurred at the beginning. This is because resources such as energy and water are used and food waste is generated at every stage of processing, so the environmental impacts accumulate along the food value chain. The negative environmental impact of food waste can therefore best be mitigated by eliminating food waste at the end of the value chain. 

 

Towards less food waste

On 8 March 2013, the Federal Council adopted a measure to reduce food waste as part of the Green Economy Action Plan. Among other things, this has resulted in a stakeholder dialogue and the implementation of a number of initial measures.

In 2015, Switzerland and more than 190 other countries adopted the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This calls on Switzerland and the other signatories to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030 (Target 12.3).

 

With the adoption of the Chevalley postulate (18.3829) on 5 March 2019, the National Council has mandated the Federal Council to produce an action plan on food waste prevention. This will include existing and, where appropriate, new, voluntary measures as well as accompanying measures by the federal government. An evaluation will take place, probably in 2024, to determine whether the measures set out in the action plan are sufficient or whether adjustments are needed. 

 

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Last modification 29.06.2018

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