A broad, cross-sector approach to halving food waste and optimizing the value of (unavoidable) residual flows is the keystone of the European program, REFRESH. "We gather knowledge and insights and make them available to other countries," says Toine Timmermans, spokesperson for the Dutch Taskforce Circular Economy in Food (TCEF), one of four national platforms launched within the REFRESH project.

In REFRESH, funded by the European Horizon2020 program, 26 parties from 12 European countries are working together with China towards Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 (Halving the amount of food wasted per person between now and 2030, both in the supermarket and by the consumer). In addition, product losses must be spread throughout the entire chain. At the same time, the value of unavoidable residual flows and reused or recycled packaging materials must be increased.

Systems approach
REFRESH (2015-2019) uses an innovative, systems approach based on national Frameworks for Action. "A coordinated public-private partnership between committed companies, governments and societal organizations is the key to less food waste and optimal use of residual flows", emphasizes Timmermans. "Otherwise, initiatives will remain too small to have any effect."

REFRESH therefore focuses on strategic cooperation between parties in the chain. That companies take responsibility for setting goals and taking real action is central to the philosophy. Changing legislation and removing barriers to new solutions to food waste are also at the top of the list of priorities.

Pilot countries
Together with Germany, Spain and Hungary, the Netherlands is one of the countries where the broad, overarching approach of REFRESH is being developed and tested. The Dutch TCEF, an initiative of Wageningen University & Research, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, and the Alliance for Sustainable Food, brings purpose and direction to this issue. "The Taskforce connects initiatives against food waste in the Netherlands, and thus forms a network of pioneers who are committed to halving food waste by 2030," says Timmermans.

Since its foundation, in early 2018, the initiative has developed into a coalition of partners from the entire chain: SMEs, food multinationals and other public and private parties. The coalition partners recently agreed to coordinate and connect their anti-food-waste activities. "Together, they have drawn up a joint agenda and the action plan Together Against Food Waste", illustrates Timmermans.

Four elements

The Dutch approach is based on previous (scientific) insight obtained through REFRESH. The approach has four elements: monitoring progress and impact; innovations by companies in the chain, awareness among consumers; and changing legislation and guidelines. "Each Taskforce partner reports their progress according to a mutually agreed method."

The Taskforce is bubbling with creativity and renewal-energy, says Timmermans. "Members are contacting each other and have already set up various new initiatives. For example, Protix and Albert Heijn jointly launched the OEReitm concept, Lamb Weston/Meijer invested in new processes to eventually use all their side streams for human consumption, and McDonald's reduced its waste by two thousand tons. "Another example is Waste is Delightful, a platform of entrepreneurs who make tasty products from food that would otherwise be thrown away. At the moment, their products can be found on the Waste is Delightful shelf at the Jumbo supermarket in Wageningen.

Proving ground for innovation

Thanks to the changes that the Taskforce is initiating, the Netherlands is rapidly becoming a proving ground for innovations against food waste. "Foreign initiatives like KeepIT, Wasteless and Too Good To Go chose the Netherlands as a great place to grow a company", Timmermans illustrates.

The approaches and results of the four pilot countries are compared within REFRESH. "The Netherlands is currently at the forefront when it comes to structured monitoring and joint ambition and involvement," says Timmermans. It is expected that there will also be a structured form of cooperation in the other countries, which will continue after the REFRESH project completes in June 2019.

Connection search

We now have a blueprint with which other countries in Europe, and beyond, can implement. Four countries are already interested. "We offer interested parties a workshop in which they learn how to set up a voluntary cooperative such as ours," says Timmermans. "Applying the REFRESH blueprint needs to be tailored to each participant and depends, among other things, on how companies, governments and social organizations prefer to work together in complex projects."

Timmermans hopes that as many organizations as possible will join together in the fight against food waste. "Learn from the knowledge and experience of the pioneers. Then you’ll be up and running much faster."