National roadmap for food waste reduction in Sri Lanka

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has called for halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses (Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] Target 12.3). Globally, state and non-state actors have introduced regulatory and incentive mechanisms to mitigate food waste at the local, national and regional levels.

Food waste occurs across the entire food supply chain. In most cases, stakeholders are not aware of the magnitude of the waste generated and believe that it is just part of ‘doing business’. This results in preventable socioeconomic and environmental costs.

About 22% of the total population of Sri Lanka does not have sufficient food to sustain a healthy life, and about 33% cannot afford a nutritious diet. For this reason, initiatives to prevent and reduce food waste have the potential to play a significant role in contributing to achieving SDG 2 (zero hunger). In addition to SDGs 12 and 2, reducing food waste also contributes to SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land). For example, approximately 87% of available freshwater is used for agriculture in Sri Lanka, so preventing food waste will help to reduce the pressure on available water resources and the demand for water in the food production system.

Where, why and how is food wasted?

In Sri Lanka, food waste represents between 50% and 76% of total municipal solid waste. The total food waste generated is estimated to be nearly 4,000 tons per day. The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has been working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to ascertain why, how much and where food is being wasted by different sectors in Sri Lanka.

In 2020, a study conducted by IWMI and FAO, which focused on three major waste disposal centers in Sri Lanka’s Western Province, revealed that about 724 tons (55%) of the total waste collected in a day is food waste. The study further noted that the Colombo Municipal Council contributes to 42% of the total food waste transported to these disposal sites.

In a series of case studies, researchers from IWMI and FAO examined food waste at nine sites across five sectors: food services, wholesale markets, retail markets, caterers/institutional canteens and households. At each site, major sources of waste generation were identified and the wasted food was separated, weighed and categorized. The study revealed the volume of wasted food along with the causes of waste generation.

Strategies were identified to reduce food waste. For example, one major hotel, which had been wasting around one-third of the food it produced, was able to cut its daily food waste from 540 grams to 200 grams per customer.

Roadmap for food waste reduction

With the support of IWMI, FAO was able to develop a roadmap for preventing and reducing food waste in Sri Lanka. The National Roadmap on Urban Food Waste Prevention and Reduction was accepted and launched by the Ministry of Environment in 2021. The Ministry of Environment, as the leading authority, established a steering committee with key actors and players involved in the food waste system in order to operationalize the roadmap.

Significant progress was made in 2022 as a result of the roadmap, with the following initiatives set in motion:

  • Posters, stickers and social media campaigns have been used to target school cafeterias with messages on reducing food waste.
  • Informal food banks have been set up by civil society, religious groups and volunteers.
  • The Ministry of Environment donated 12 refrigerators to food banks to address the problem of storing food that was rescued.
  • A guideline has been drafted for food rescue operations which will be validated with stakeholders.
  • Supermarkets and hotel chains have participated in food waste prevention and reduction training programs organized by the Ministry of Environment.
  • Discussions have begun with famous local chefs to include food waste reduction messages in their cookery demonstration programs streamed on YouTube.
  • The Ministry of Environment has started to develop proposals to seek funds from donors to implement the recommendations provided in the roadmap.

No time to waste

To ensure momentum is not lost, IWMI will be collaborating with the Waste Management Authority of the Western Province to improve resource recovery from food waste. This will include improving the efficiency of composting plants, conducting training in co-composting and introducing a Food Waste Management mobile app to link food waste with end users.

IWMI is also analyzing lessons learned from international best practices on food waste recovery and redistribution, with a view to developing related guidelines and partnership contract templates for countries such as Sri Lanka. FAO is developing a proposal to seek funds from the European Union to consolidate work that has already been done on implementation of the roadmap.

We gratefully acknowledge the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for its contributions to the Technical Cooperation Project with the Government of Sri Lanka.