Thousands of tonnes of bread are wasted every year – the first quantitative study in Sweden

The doctoral project that has now been completed is the first quantitative study of bread waste in Sweden. Bread in particular has been a neglected food item in the research literature on food waste.

The overall goal of the project was to design and evaluate measures to reduce bread waste, especially in bakeries and large grocery stores.

“We have made calculations of the amount of bread waste, analysed the reasons behind it, and suggested solutions. Then we evaluated this in relation to potential environmental savings,” said Pedro Brancoli.

Substantial negative environmental impact

The project initially examined food waste in general at large grocery stores to understand which products were most often discarded and to estimate its impact on the environment. It showed that bread waste in particular accounts for a significant burden on the environment.

“This came as a surprise, as bread has not been considered to account for any significant waste flow at retailers before,” he said.

Cooperation with bakeries and retailers

The discovery resulted in a collaborative project with bread bakeries and retailers to look at bread waste at the national level and to find methods to prevent it, or to recycle it as a raw material within the framework of the circular economy, i.e. by using what is classified as bread waste to produce something else.

“We could establish that large amounts of bread are wasted in Sweden. To be more precise, 80,000 tonnes per year, or about 8 kg per person and year. The current bread distribution system also proved to be a significant source of bread waste. But we were also able to show that the bread that is wasted actually has a significant value,” he explained.

Recycled bread waste good for the environment

The most important thing, said Pedro Brancoli, should always be to prevent bread waste from occurring from the beginning by identifying risks and developing effective strategies.

“At the same time, there will always be some waste in the supply chain, and the bread waste can be used as a raw material to produce ethanol, animal feed, beer, or as a substrate to grow a protein-rich fungus which can be used as food. These alternatives have great potential to reduce the environmental impact in terms of the bread life cycle,” he said.

How do your research results benefit society?

“They show that bread can very well be part of a circular supply chain. However, more cooperation is needed between companies throughout the supply chain in order for them to see the benefits of preventing bread waste and see the value in it. The results can also be used as support when companies are to make investments, and by decision-makers in their work for reduced environmental impact.”

Why is this research important?

“Food production requires large resources, such as land, nutrients, water, and energy, all of which affect the environment through, for example, global warming, depletion of freshwater resources, and loss of biodiversity. But about a third of all food produced is lost on the way from farm to table. This leads to not only an environmental impact, but also unnecessary economic costs and social consequences through reduced access to food. This has led to an increased political and public debate on the need to address food waste, while at the same time increasing interest in the environmental, economic, and social effects it causes.”

What is the next step in your research?

“It is to implement the measures proposed in the dissertation for grocery stores and bakeries and to investigate food waste in other parts of the supply chain in Sweden and internationally.”

Read more

Thesis title: “Prevention and valorisation of surplus bread at the supplier-retailer interface”

Read the doctoral thesis

Research area: Resource Recovery

Read more about the research in Resource Recovery

The project is linked to the 2030 Agenda and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development: goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production, goal 2 on putting an end to hunger, goal 6 on clean water and sanitation, goal 13 on climate measures, goal 14 on underwater life, and goal 15 on life on land.

The defence was held on 3 December at the University of Borås.

Principal supervisor: Professor Kim Bolton, University of Borås

Assistant Supervisors: Kamran Rousta, Associate Professor at the University of Borås, and Mattias Eriksson at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.