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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Sustainability assessment of surplus food donation: A transfer system generating environmental, economic, and social values

Sundin, Niina; Bartek, Louise; Osowski, Christine Persson; Strid, Ingrid; Eriksson, Mattias


Retailers' food waste, often consisting of edible food, could be reduced, while simultaneously tackling food inse-curity, through surplus food donations to vulnerable groups. However, sustainability assessments of food dona-tions covering all three sustainability perspectives are scarce, hampering decision-makers in prioritizing donation as a food waste management measure. This Swedish case study assessed the environmental, economic, and social aspects of surplus food donation and examined trade-offs between the different sustainability perspec-tives. Methods included life cycle assessment, net economic benefit calculation, social life cycle assessment based on food security questionnaires, and nutritional assessments. The results showed that food donation was a way to reduce food waste benefitting the environment and adding economic and social value, to vulnerable people in particular. Despite substantial rebound effects offsetting some potential environmental savings, food bag dona-tions outcompeted anaerobic digestion as a food waste management option in terms of environmental mitigation effect. Regarding trade-offs, accrued savings causing the rebound effects generated important social value for the donation recipients, by relieving their personal finances. Private and public investment was required to fund the donation units, but positive economic value was generated through valorization of surplus food. Food bag dona-tions also showed potential to alleviate recipients' food insecurity and to contribute positively to recipients' nu-trition intake. To realize the potential of surplus food donation, policy measures should be better aligned with the waste hierarchy. Despite some trade-offs and inability to solve the underlying problems of food insecurity, food donations have great short-term potential to contribute to a more sustainable society.(c) 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of Institution of Chemical Engineers. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


Food waste management; Life cycle assessment; Rebound effect; Food security; Food rescue; Nutrition

Published in

Sustainable Production and Consumption
2023, Volume: 38, pages: 41-54