In 2023, the Nordic Council said it was aiming to intensify efforts to combat food waste — but despite wanting to focus on this at the COP28 UN climate negotiations, one of its member countries had not yet passed a food waste law of its own: Norway.
Food waste in the country was 84.7kg per inhabitant in 2020, while the issue was declared by the Norwegian Environment Agency to be sixth in the list of the top 50 priorities in order for Norway to decrease its emissions.
The only existing measure was introduced in 2015, called “Bransjeavtalen”, a voluntary industry agreement on cutting food waste by big industry players, with the target of a 50-percent reduction by 2030. There was also a first intermediary goal of a 15-percent cut by 2020 .
Despite those industry efforts, the 2020 goal was not achieved, halting at nine percent, forcing NGOs to call for more regulatory measures to reach the country’s reduction targets.
Norway then initially planned to publish a new food waste law in 2024, after the government created a food waste committee in February 2023, formed of 15 representatives from industry, institutions, and NGOs, to come up with a final text to submit by the end of 2023.
The committee presented in early January its report for that food waste law to the ministry for climate and environment and the ministry for agriculture and food, proposing 33 separate measures — but not a legislative act.
The measures are supposed to be an extension of the Bransjeavtalen, which will oblige the industry to “donate surplus food where it is appropriate”. The text also calls for the reduction of the price of food that is approaching its shelf life date, across all types of grocery stores.
Furthermore, it will be a requirement that all actors in the food industry explain why food waste occurs in their supply chain and what measures they take to avoid it.
According to the NGO Fremtiden i våre hender (FIVH, Movement for a Green Future), which had lobbied for an update of the law since the early 2010s, the heavy presence of industry within the committee group deterred the inclusion of measures they believed necessary to halve food waste by 2030, as well as a full legislative text.
Ingrid Kleiva Møller, policy officer for FIVH and representative of the NGO within the committee, said the meetings had not addressed the biggest factor in food waste: the one that happens at the consumer level.
A study from the Swedish food agency revealed that much of the food waste in people’s homes is due to attractive offers such as bulk discounts and other marketing practices in grocery stores.
She said that the industry could have a positive contribution to limiting consumer waste, but it opted out from agreeing on stringent measures: “If you’re supposed to halve consumer waste, that means €530m (NOK6bn) in direct losses for stores,” she said, whereas FIVH asked for the inclusion of economic sanctions for those companies that do not respect mandatory targets.
As the report was then handed to the two Norwegian ministers, the ball now goes back to the lawmaker’s court — although there is still no clarity on which departments will handle the proposal.
Kleiva Møller hopes MPs will be working to make sure Norway’s goal of halving food waste by 2030 is achieved, and that binding targets — like in Norway’s climate law — can be introduced.
EU food waste targets
Meanwhile, the EU Commission is set to introduce this year new food waste reduction targets, in line with the global United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs).
In July 2023, the EU executive published a legislative proposal amending the EU Waste Framework Directive to introduce legally-binding targets for food waste reduction of 10 percent in processing and manufacturing, and by 30 percent jointly at retail and consumption levels by 2030.
According to the European consumer organization, BEUC, the reduction targets proposed by the commission are insufficient to reach the UN goal by 2030, and the NGO community called for legally-binding food waste reduction targets of 50 percent to be set from ‘farm to fork’.
Similarly to Norway, the majority of waste in Europe (53 percent) happens in homes, where the commission estimates that households could save €400 a year if prevented from buying produce they do not consume — to the disadvantage of the grocery, food, and drinks sector.
But under its proposal, the commission leaves it free to member states to choose between best practices on how to tackle food loss and waste.
“Consumers have a role to play too but they require support — changes to the way food is sold and accessed and a whole community approach,” said Nicole Pita, project manager for IPES-Food, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.
Camille Perrin, senior food policy officer at BEUC, would have welcomed it if the proposal had given recognition to the specific expertise and role of consumer organisations in raising awareness and educating consumers on food waste and how to reduce it.
Some cities and regional authorities have taken it upon themselves to act on consumer behaviour, deploying initiatives on food waste and emissions-reduction within their jurisdictions; for example in the cities of Vienna in Austria and Ghent in Belgium.
“These policies are quietly working because local governments are addressing climate change with communities long-term together with other challenges that people care about, like healthy diets and supporting local businesses,” Olivier de Schutter, co-chair of IPES-Food, told EUobserver.
As the goals set by the commission need to be achieved in the next six years, in 2027 it will review member states’ achievements and evaluate whether the 27-nation bloc will need to further ramp up measures to reduce food waste.