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ISHES Newsletter #53: Food Loss and Waste in Japan: Issues and Initiatives

2023/11/24 15:44:29

ISHES Newsletter #53
November 24, 2023

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Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

We hope that you our readers have all been fine since our last issue in June. We're pleased to send you our latest newsletter, this time focusing on the issue of food waste and loss. We invite you to have a look.


Food Loss and Waste in Japan: Issues and Initiatives


Food Loss Zero website of the Consumer Affairs Agency, Government of Japan

By the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES), Japan

A lot of food that is still edible and safe for consumption ends up being thrown away as food loss and waste. This is a serious issue today not only in Japan but in many countries around the world. What can be done about it? This issue of the ISHES newsletter has a look at related legislation and initiatives in Japan.


In Japan, October 30 each year is Food Loss Reduction Day, based on legislation. Many people recognize food loss and waste as a global issue. In fact, Goal 12 "Responsible Consumption and Production" of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) states the goal of "By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses." In this ISHES Newsletter, we introduce the current situation and issues relating to food loss and waste in Japan, as well as efforts to tackle them.

Food loss and waste issues in Japan today

According to data released on June 9, 2023 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), food loss and waste (disposed food that is actually still edible) in Japan amounted to 5.23 million tons in fiscal 2021. Of this amount, 2.79 million tons of food-related waste were from businesses, and 2.44 million tons from households.

How about the global situation? Referring to data on food loss and waste (wasted food, consisting of both edible food and inedible parts such as bones) in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Japan, the amount of food loss and waste in each country is considerable, at over 100 kilograms per capita (Table 1). The massive amount of food loss and waste is clearly a common issue among developed countries. A particular issue in Japan is that its food self-sufficiency rate is only 38 percent (caloric basis). In other words, Japan imports a huge amount of food while simultaneously generating enormous amounts of food waste and loss. The last line of Table 1 (food self-sufficiency) shows that East Asian neighbor South Korea also shares Japan's problem.

The mountains of food loss and waste themselves are a problem, of course, but it is also a big problem if a country is generating so much waste while at the same time importing food from other countries.

Japanese legislation on food loss and waste

In Japan, there are two laws regarding food loss and waste. One is the Act on Promotion of Recycling and Related Activities for Treatment of Cyclical Food Resources (Food Recycling Act), which entered into force in 2001 and was amended in 2007. This law was established to reduce and recycle food waste generated by food-related businesses (including food manufacturers, food wholesalers and retailers, and the restaurant industry). It stipulates numerical targets to control the generation of food waste, targets for recycling, and measures for controlling waste generation and encouraging businesses to put them into practice. Furthermore, the legislation stipulates recommendations, notices, and orders, or sometimes even penalties in the event businesses are found to be making insufficient effort on recycling and other initiatives.

The other is the Act on Promotion of Food Loss and Waste Reduction (Food Loss Reduction Promotion Act), which entered into force in 2019. This act has provisions to encourage food loss reduction and specifies the responsibilities of the national and local governments, and businesses, as well as the role of consumers. A feature of this legislation is that it involves various entities to cooperate to promote food loss reduction as a national effort. It stipulates October as Food Loss Reduction Month and October 30 as Food Loss Reduction Day. Also, as basic measures, it stipulates that national and local governments should provide education to consumers and businesses, spread knowledge and raise awareness, as well as support their initiatives.

These two pieces of legislation serve as the core of various initiatives in Japan to deal with food waste and loss. We introduce some of these initiatives below.

Reducing food loss by modifying business practices

One of the initiatives actively promoted in Japan is to revise business practices. For example, Japan has a business practice called the "one-third rule." This is based on the idea that the duration from the day of production to the best-before date is divided equally into three periods among three parties (manufacturers, retailers, and consumers) in the food distribution process. With these practices, consumers can obtain food products with sufficient time remaining before the best-before date. For example, if the period from the production date to the best-before date is 180 days, the 60th day is the deadline for delivery to the retailer and the 120th day is the deadline for the retail sale to occur. If a product does not get to the retailer by the deadline for delivery, it will be returned to the manufacturer, which leads to food waste. Japan is not the only country with delivery deadlines like this, but there is a problem in that delivery deadlines are shorter in Japan than in other countries.

Against this backdrop, a pilot project for reviewing business practices was launched under a MAFF initiative in 2013. The project reviewed the effect of reducing food loss and waste by changing the manufacturer-to-retailer deadline for delivery from the previous one-third to instead be one-half or more of the best-before period for beverages and confectioneries whose best-before period is 180 days or more. For example, if a product has a best-before period of 180 days after the date of production, the 90th (instead of the 60th) day would be the deadline for delivery to a retailer. A total of 35 companies participated in the pilot project. The estimated reduction in loss and waste was estimated at about 40,000 tons for beverages (valued at about 7.1 billion yen or US$47 million) and 1,000 tons of snacks (about 1.6 billion yen or US$10.6 million).

Efforts to review business practices started with this pilot project and have been ongoing. MAFF announced that 240 companies had reviewed or planned to review the "one-third" rule as of October 30, 2022. Other ideas considered by many companies to change business practices included initiatives to change the display labels from expiration "date" to "month," and to extend the expiration date. As we can see, initiatives that review business-as-usual practices could have the potential to significantly reduce food loss and waste.

Reducing food loss and waste by "matching"

Ibaraki Food Loss and Waste Reduction Project

Another noteworthy effort is an attempt to connect businesses that generate food loss and waste with people who need food. For example, Ibaraki Prefecture has an office that supports and coordinates matching as part of the Ibaraki Food Loss and Waste Reduction Project. It promotes matching of businesses that have food loss and waste problems with organizations that can possibly make use of the food. With the help of this office, for example, agricultural produce and seasonings, such as green vegetables that were becoming discolored and approaching their expiration dates, were picked up from retail stores and delivered to Kodomo-Shokudo (a children's healthy food cafeteria program) in local neighborhoods. The prefecture has various other initiatives, including organizing a food donation drive, a study group for food waste recycling to produce animal feed, consultations and business meetings for the Ibaraki Food Loss and Waste Reduction initiative, and the Food Loss and Waste Reduction Seminar 2022 in Ibaraki.

Some private companies also provide matching services. For example, a Japanese e-commerce retailer named Kuradashi buys from other companies food products that are still edible but would otherwise be disposed due to substandard quality or the "one-third" rule. The company manages an e-commerce website to sell these products at low prices.

Kuradashi was founded in 2014, making it one of the first in its industry. The company website sells products such as beverages, alcohol and sweets below regular prices. On the product details pages, site users can see the amount of discount being applied, expiration dates, and Kuradashi's rationale for carrying the products.

Another feature is that by buying products from Kuradashi, people can make automatic donations to groups that tackle environmental preservation, poverty or animal protection. A donation is included in the product price, and consumers can choose a recipient from a list of groups at the time of purchase. The company accomplishes a triple win, good for sellers, buyers and society as a whole.

From grass-roots to high-tech initiatives

Various other initiatives are underway across Japan at the citizen level or utilizing advanced technologies. For example, the "3010 Movement" is an attempt to reduce leftover food at parties, luncheons and events, by recommending specific time guidelines or tips to ensure the food is eaten and leftovers are reduced. Event participants are reminded of the food table and encouraged to partake in the food especially in the first thirty minutes after toasts are presented, and then again in the final ten minutes before the end of the party. This practice originated in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, and nowadays, it has spread all over Japan. Another nationwide initiative is known as the "Food Bank" movement in which food products that can be eaten safely but cannot be sold in the market due to package failure or other reasons are donated for free to institutions, groups and homes in need.

As an example of the use of advanced technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT), the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) outsourced a project from January to February 2023. In the pilot study, the price of 25 kinds of bread was automatically changed three times a day using IoT depending on the best-buy dates. At the early stage of the pilot study, the sales were flat partly due to the low awareness of the trial, but after the study became better known as a result of increased visibility, the ratio of the bread sold in the study increased by 9% in the last week relative to before the study.

The efforts of the national government, businesses and citizens in Japan ended up reducing food loss by about 1.2 million tons (from 6.42 million tons in fiscal 2012 to 5.23 million tons in fiscal 2021). In your country, what kinds of initiatives are underway to reduce food loss and waste? We'd love to hear more about your experiences.

(1 USD=151 JPY)

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