Trade-Off Analyses of Food Loss and Waste Reduction and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Food Supply Chains

Jan Broeze*, Xuezhen Guo, Heike Axmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Food losses and waste (FLW) reduction and mitigating climate impact in food chains are priorities in achieving sustainable development goals. However, many FLW-reducing interventions induce additional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, for example, from energy, fuel, or packaging. The net effect of such interventions (expressed in GHG emissions per unit of food available for consumption) is not obvious, as is illustrated in a number of case studies. We recommend that in the decision to take on FLW-reducing interventions, the trade-offs on sustainability impacts (such as GHG emissions) are taken into consideration. Since FLW induce demand and extra operations in all stages along a supply chain, adequate representation of cumulative GHG emissions along the production and supply chain, including ‘hidden parts’ of the chain, is required, which is challenging in full LCA studies. As a workaround, the case studies in this paper are based on a generic tool, the Agro-Chain greenhouse gas Emission (ACE) calculator that includes metrics and data for common food product categories and supply chain typologies. The calculator represents the structure of a generic (fresh food) supply chain and offers data sets for, amongst others, crop GHG emission factors and FLW in different stages of the production and distribution chain. Through scenario calculations with different chain parameters (describing pre and post-intervention scenarios), the net effects of an intervention on GHG emissions and FLW per unit of food sold to the consumer can be compared with little effort. In the case studies, interventions at the production stage as well as in post-harvest operations, are analyzed. Results show that post-harvest activities (especially FLW) contribute substantially to the carbon footprint of supplied food products. The FLW-reducing interventions are considered to induce additional GHG emissions. In most case studies, FLW-reducing interventions lower total GHG associated with a unit of food supplied to a client or consumer. However, in one case study, the extra emissions due to the intervention were higher than the prevented emission from lowering food losses. Consequently, in the latter case, the intervention is not an effective GHG emission reduction intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8531
Number of pages16
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2023


  • emission factors
  • food loss and waste
  • GHG emissions
  • loss factors


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