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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Making food waste illegal in Sweden – Potential gains from enforcing best practice in the public catering sector

Eriksson, Mattias; Christensen, Jonas; Malefors, Christopher


Food waste is an inefficiency problem that needs to be reduced significantly to achieve a sustainable food system. Best practices and knowledge are available on how to reduce waste but large volumes of food are still wasted every year, so policies that support or enforce broader implementation of best practices are needed. One policy that could be used to push implementation and successful use of best practices to reduce food waste is the Swedish Environmental Code, which states that all actors must consider every possibility to reduce the amount of waste generated in any facility, unless this is unreasonably expensive. However, there is no clear definition on the actual waste reduction needed to comply with this requirement, so it is not enforced in practice.

This study explored the potential gains of applying the Environmental Code, potential benchmarking thresholds for illegal levels of food waste and best voluntary practices that can achieve low levels of food waste. The Environmental Code is applicable to most operator food handling systems, and was assessed here using the Swedish public catering sector as a case. All 290 Swedish municipalities were asked to provide raw data for the study and some agreed, resulting in a dataset covering 458 public catering units serving care homes, schools and preschools. The data were analysed to identify different permissible levels of food waste, while the best canteens provided information on their best practices to keep food waste low.

The results showed that with best voluntary practice for each type of catering unit, overall food waste would be reduced by up to 76 %. Best voluntary practices used by the best-performing canteens were identified as: ‘reusing buffet leftovers’, ‘adjusting recipes based on previous consumption’, ‘advising guests to start with small tasting portions’, ‘setting goals for waste reduction’ and ‘serving smaller volumes in buffet containers and refilling more often’. All these actions can realistically be implemented as standard practices by public catering organisations. The present analysis could not confirm that all these actions have actually been implemented, or to what extent, but practical implementation of identified best voluntary practices meeting stated benchmarks is recommended.

The Environmental Code is technology-neutral and goal-oriented and participating food business operators are not forced by law or official regulations to introduce resource-saving measures, but this study shows that some measures can lead to a large reduction in food waste. The study does not show whether harsh, i.e. costly, measures can be enforced on businesses, which can only be determined by case law (court practice). However, in the specific cases in this study, measures that could have been enforced based on the Environmental Code would have led to at least 76 % reduction in food waste. This would be a major step towards a sustainable food system.


Food waste; Environmental code; Hospitality sector; Public catering; Control measure; Best possible technology; Best available technology; Enforcement

Published in

Sustainable Production and Consumption
2023, Volume: 35, pages: 229-237