Food waste in an alternative food network – A case-study
This paper investigates food waste dynamics in a retail alternative food network (AFN). We provide a first contribution to assess food waste in an AFN in terms of 1) food waste levels, 2) food waste causes, and 3) food waste management practices (i.e. food waste reduction and handling). We use an exploratory case-study to investigate food waste in a Polish AFN. We place the results of this case-study in the context of conventional retail, by reviewing retail food waste literature. Quantitative results show that food waste levels at the AFN are very low compared to conventional retail literature. Qualitative results show that food waste causes at the AFN are partly shared with conventional retail, and partly specific to the AFN. Possible explanations for low food waste are provided by the food waste management strategies, in which food waste prevention is a key component of the AFN practices.
Two other possible explanations are the degree of flexibility and the main drivers of the organization. Conventional retail is ruled by top-down policies, focusing on profit-maximization. The AFN we studied is small-scale, independently organized, and non-profit. Its main driver is to balance financial viability, accessibility and ethical guidelines. Looking beyond profit allows for a high concern with food waste, while the autonomy of the organization gives its members flexibility to develop ways to prevent and handle food waste. Future research can build on our approach of combining food waste estimations with qualitative investigation of food waste causes and management practices. Food waste dynamics should be further investigated in other (retail) AFNs, in small-scale conventional and organic food retail, and in small and large-scale cooperative supermarkets.