Defining the Meaning of Food Waste as a Matter of Urgency

  • Monica DelsignoreEmail author
  • Margherita Ramajoli
  • Carola Ricci


The lack of a uniform definition of waste worldwide applies to food waste as well. International organizations (including regional integration organization as the EU) and State governments refer to different definitions. In the International perspective, policy and definition of food waste have been traditionally developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), with the explicit intent to struggle world hunger. Nonetheless, the same initial goal of combatting global food insecurity has been changing recently adding a new perspective to the traditional narrow concept, brought in by sustainability and its broad interpretation including the circular economy target, contained in the 2015 post-Global Millennium Development Goals. The challenge is offering the chance for a clear definition, distinguishing the European framework from the International context only on the basis of the specific scope of such a peculiar Regional Integration Organization. This Article aims to demonstrate that the European definition of food waste has been targeting so far, as for the legislative perspective, the specific goal of environmental impact reduction, which is just one of the numerous aims identified within the International legal framework. The National systems in the European context ask for an unambiguous definition in order to measure and estimate in a credible, practical and consistent manner the extent of loss and waste and to identify where the loss and waste occur. A precise definition will enable countries, companies and other organizations to take sustainable decisions and program their investments. Having a clear and consistent legal framework will certainly assist businesses and regulators to make decisions on a more certain basis. That is a key factor in order to achieve the ambitious target of the circular economy. In the European Union system, there is no specific definition of food waste under the Waste Framework Directive (WFD, No 2008/98/EC). The previous Directive (No 75/442/EEC) containing a definition was amended in 1991 with the addition of “categories of waste” (Annex I) and the omission of any reference to national law.  A lack of legal clarity under EU law regarding the distinction between waste and non-waste could hinder the efficient use of by-products. That is why the European Parliament has recently called on the EU Commission to develop guidance on the implementation of Article 5 of the WFD which defines by-products. The distinction between waste, by products and end of waste is a key issue in the Circular Economy Package and would also help in raising awareness among food industries, retailers and consumers.


Food waste Food loss Circular economy 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monica Delsignore
    • 1
    Email author
  • Margherita Ramajoli
    • 1
  • Carola Ricci
    • 2
  1. 1.School of LawUniversità Degli Studi Di Milano-BicoccaMilanoItaly
  2. 2.Department of Political and Social SciencesUniversità Degli Studi Di PaviaPaviaItaly

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