Eating healthy or wasting less? Reducing resource footprints of food consumption

Hanna Helander, Martin Bruckner, Sina Leipold, Anna Petit-Boix, Stefan Bringezu

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


To feed future populations on ever-scarcer natural resources, policy initiatives aim to decrease resource footprints of food consumption. While adopting healthier diets has shown great potential to reduce footprints, current political initiatives primarily address strategies to reduce food waste, with the target of halving food waste at retail and consumption levels by 2030. Using Germany as a case study, we compare the resource-saving potential of this political target with three scenarios of nutritionally viable, plant-based dietary patterns and investigate interactions and trade-offs. By using the food and agriculture biomass input-output model, we capture biomass, cropland, and blue water footprints of global supply chains. The results show that dietary changes are particularly effective in reducing biomass and cropland footprints, showing a decrease of up to 61% and 48% respectively, whereas halving food waste decreases biomass and cropland footprints by 11% and 15% respectively. For blue water savings, halving food waste is more effective: water use decreases by 14% compared to an increase of 6% for dietary change with the highest water consumption.Subsequently, a combination of the scenarios shows the highest total reduction potential. However, our findings reveal that despite reduced footprints, a dietary shift can lead to an increased amount of food waste due to the rising consumption of products associated with higher food waste shares. Therefore, policy strategies addressing both targets might be contradicting. We conclude that international and national policies can be most effective in achieving higher resource efficiency by exploiting the reduction potentials of all available strategies while simultaneously considering strategy interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)054033
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 107004 Human ecology
  • 201128 Sustainable building
  • 401905 Renewable resources
  • 405 not use (legacy)
  • 405004 Sustainable agriculture
  • 502042 Environmental economics
  • 502022 Sustainable economics
  • 105904 Environmental research

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