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Corporate and grassroots responses to food waste regulations

Case Studies from Germany and the UK

Foodsharing Festival © Christine Bonnin
Bio-Helden Iniative © Christine Bonnin
Food Bank Donation © Amelie Bernzen
The Good Food Cologne © Amelie Bernzen


The emerging literature on food waste has identified it as one of the most pressing global challenges today, highlighting both negative environmental and socio-economic implications and the clear urgency to reduce food waste at all scales and stages of the production-consumption chain. While the negative impacts, including CO2 emissions, groundwater exploitation, contested land use, increasing food prices and associated food and nutrition insecurity have been widely mentioned, it is above all the quantification of total food loss and waste that have been at the core of much of the literature. Bearing in mind that this quantification of food waste depends much on the way it is conceptualised, the FAO estimated that more than 1.3 billion tonnes (representing between one third and half) of all food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted  each year. There is no general agreement, however, on how much of this food waste is produced at different stages of the value chain, and the role of corporate players is particularly ambiguous.

A recently emerging and growing societal awareness in the EU of the extent of food waste is giving rise to a diversity of responses aimed a tackling this problem.  Efforts to reduce food waste encompass both corporate and grassroots (community-led) actors and initiatives and are being driven by similarly diverse aims that include economic reasons as well as socio-ecological and/or ideological reasons. Yet, the role that legal regulations and laws on national and supra-national levels have played in driving or shaping these initiatives have not been fully understood.

This study hence aims to provide deeper insight into the questions of food waste governance and the potential positive and negative influences of current food waste policies to reaching overarching food waste reduction goals linked to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the debated EU Circular Economy Package, both at corporate and at grassroots levels. We are using Cologne (Germany) and Bristol (UK) as case studies from two countries with the same overarching EU legislation but different national institutional settings. Conceptually, we draw together three different bodies of literature to frame our research: Value Chain/GPN literature, food and nutrition security frameworks and legal geographies literature.


To address the proposed research questions, we have so far (September 2017) conducted approx. 15 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with corporate stakeholders (retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers), European, national and local government authorities responsible for designing and implementing food (waste) policies and regulations, other actors such as consumer protection associations, and representatives of nationally and/or locally organised grassroots initiatives in both countries. Analysis is ongoing and first publications are planned for submission early 2018.


This project is funded through the “Network & Exchange – NetEx” postdoctoral programme, University of Cologne, National and State Funds (Mittel des Bundes und der Länder) for projects by excellent early- and mid-career female researchers


Dr. Amelie Bernzen (University of Cologne)
Dr. Christine Bonnin (University College Dublin, Ireland)