Applications Open for 2021 Policy Lab: Reducing Food Loss and Waste to Contribute to Net Zero Emissions from the Food System

The Global Food Security programme (GFS) invites applications from post-doctoral researchers at an early stage of their careers to take part in the 2021 Policy Lab on reducing food loss and waste. This is particularly focused on reducing emissions from the food system and contributing to net zero goals.

We seek applicants interested in using an interdisciplinary and systems approach to propose evidence-based policy recommendations that will help reduce food loss and waste and contribute to achieving net zero emissions from the food system.  The call is open to post-doctoral researchers in any discipline with links to the food system (for example biological, social, environmental, physical and economic). This could include areas such as, but not limited to, marketing, agriculture, food and packaging manufacturing, crop sciences, sustainability, ecology, microbiology, genomics, economics, behavioural sciences or nutrition.

Introduction to the GFS Policy Lab:

GFS Policy Labs offer the opportunity for early career researchers to learn about evidence-based policy, collaborative working and solving interdisciplinary challenges affecting our food system. Applicants from any disciplines are invited to a series of  online workshops across the 20-22nd April where they will learn how research can inform policy and scope the issue of reducing food loss and waste throughout the food system, with the opportunity to interact with stakeholders. At this Policy Lab workshop, applicants will form interdisciplinary teams competing for the opportunity to publish a policy facing think piece, and up to £1,000 to support this. This 10-page synthesis report will cover the background to a specific problem and subsequent recommendations for policy, practice and research around the topic of reducing food loss and waste and the environmental benefits of doing so.

Previous winning teams have presented their findings directly to governmental departments and programme partners, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Department of International Trade (DIT), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and partners in UKRI. This year we have submitted a bid for the winning team to release their report on an international platform at the United Nations COP26 conference on climate change in Glasgow, November 2021 (1) and are awaiting to hear the outcome.


Globally 30-50% of our food produced for consumption is lost or wasted (2). Food loss and waste refers to both the reduction of food quantity and/or quality as it passes through the food chain. Food loss generally refers to food lost after harvesting whilst it passes through the supply chain, but before it ever reaches the consumer, for example, food which is damaged during transport and processing, or is improperly stored. Conversely, food waste generally occurs towards the end of the supply chain and refers to food that was fit for consumption, but for some reason is discarded due to consumer or retailer action. Food loss can include produce wasted due to an unappetising appearance or cosmetic defects, or food which is left too long and spoils or expires. The proportion of food waste and food loss varies geographically, based on environmental and social contexts; for example in the UK food loss is relatively low due to technical capabilities in storage and post-harvest processing, whereas higher levels of food waste are driven by uncoordinated supply chains and consumer behaviour (3).

Food loss and waste are global issues which affect the entire food system. There are significant costs incurred by food loss and waste both globally and locally in the UK, including:

  • Climate and environmental impacts: If food loss and waste was a country, it would represent the third largest greenhouse gas contributor globally (4). Approximately 6% of all global greenhouse gasses arise from producing food that is lost or wasted, exceeding that of the aviation industry three times over (5). The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation has calculated the global environmental cost of food loss and waste to be over $700 billion per year (6); these costs arise from unnecessary resources, water, energy, fertiliser, transport and agricultural land used in the production of the wasted food. Our biodiversity and natural landscapes are also effected, with an equivalent area of land larger than Wales required to produce the food that is thrown away in the UK (6). Additionally, the wasted food itself also generates methane as it decomposes in landfill, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide; eliminating food loss and waste from UK landfill alone would equate to removing 20% of the cars from UK roads (7).
  • Social and ethical implications: Hunger is a condition of life for a tenth of the population (8), in part because of food loss and waste. Reducing food loss and waste is ever more important when the growing global population (9) and changing consumption patterns of individual countries are considered (10). In the UK up to 10% of the population is food insecure, with 2% using food banks (11) whilst 9.6 million tonnes of food is lost and wasted per year (12). Moreover, food loss and waste represents the unnecessary loss of resources and efforts of human labour, undermining efforts to create a just and equitable food system.
  • Public health costs: Foods that are critical components of healthy diets are disproportionately affected by food loss and waste (13) due to the perishability of fresh, unprocessed produce, with approximately half of all fruit and vegetable produce lost or wasted, both in the UK (14) and globally (15). Similarly, food loss and waste can undermine nutrition by reducing food quality and quantity, and over 2 billion people globally lack vital micronutrients (16); food production produces more than sufficient vitamin A to meet global nutritional demands, however there is an 11% global deficiency (17) after food loss and waste is accounted for.
  • Economic costs: Food loss and waste represents a cost of over £19 billion per year to a range of stakeholders throughout the food system (18). UK food waste and surplus on farms alone accounts for 7.2% of our total primary production, with a market value of over £1.2 billion (19). At the other end of the food system, average UK households waste 8 meals a week, costing approximately £500 each year (20). The cost of food loss and waste throughout the food system increases the price of food, which has a disproportionate impact on low income individuals as a greater proportion of their income is spent on food (21).

Ultimately, reducing food loss and waste offers an opportunity to provide more food of a higher quality without the need for significantly more resources. Furthermore, unless food loss and waste is reduced, future efforts to achieve food security are significantly hindered.

2021 is the opportune time for a GFS Policy Lab on reducing food loss and waste: in November the UK is hosting the UN COP26 climate change conference (22), and this activity will showcase how reducing food loss and waste can contribute to net zero emissions from the food system; similarly, the UN Food Systems Summit (23) later this year will explore how the food system works towards the Sustainable development goals, including SDG 12.3 (24) which aims to reduce global food loss and waste by half before 2030; additionally, this year is the UN International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (25), which have one of the highest food wastage rates of any food products (26); lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit have disrupted our food system and created the opportunity to build back in ways better than before. Tackling food loss and waste is essential in delivering food security, and transforming our food system to support healthy people and a healthy planet.

This Policy Lab will explore the scientific, technological, behavioural and policy changes which could help reduce food loss and waste throughout the food chain and the associated emissions. Identifying what these changes are will require interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as close interaction with food system stakeholders such as businesses and policy makers.


In order to be eligible, early career researchers must be on a UKRI grant or fellowship, where the contract extends up to or beyond December 2021.

Participants should identify as an Early Career Researcher, including PhD and Postdoctoral researchers. Those returning to research after a career break are encouraged to apply.

Applicants should endeavour to attend all online workshops, held across 20-22nd April. If you are concerned you may be unable to attend due to caring or other responsibilities, please email By applying, applicants are agreeing to partake in the authorship and release of a policy report as part of a team if their proposal is selected; the winning team will aim to produce the report over 6 months, with release on Nov 1st 2021.

Supervisor permission is required for participation. Applicants must discuss this activity with their supervisor, ensuring that they can take time from their research to attend the workshop as part of their development. Research Council funded post-doctoral researchers are encouraged to allow time for continuous professional development (CPD), as outlined in the Concordat (27), and this Policy Lab could contribute towards this. Applicants must discuss the possibility that, if their proposal is selected, they will be required to work on authoring a report over 6 months for a small part of their time.

Please email if you have questions over eligibility or accessibility.

How to apply:

Before you apply, please ensure that you fit the eligibility criteria and submit the following documents:

  • A letter or email of support from your supervisor confirming that they are content with you taking part in this Policy Lab, and that your appointment extends up to or beyond December 2021.
  • A completed 2021 Policy Lab Application Form demonstrating how you fit the assessment criteria below (clicking this link will download a Word document, 49.1 KB) Your answers will be used to assess your application and to ensure you have the suitable skills and aptitude to participate in the Policy Lab, detailed below. Please note that your research track record is relevant but not of primary interest; of greater interest is evidence of how you might approach interdisciplinary challenges affecting the food system.

Please send application file/s saved as ‘Firstname_Lastname_PolicyLab2021’ to The deadline for applications is 7th April, 11pm (deadline extended). We will respond to your application soon after, however we are unable to provide feedback to unsuccessful applicants.

Assessment Criteria:

Participants at the workshop will be selected with the aim of ensuring a balanced coverage of disciplines and institutions across the breadth of the challenge. GFS will also use the specific criteria below:

  • A good understanding of how your research fits into the wider food system
  • The ability to work in an interdisciplinary team
  • The potential to contribute to a creative and innovative project on food loss and waste
  • The ability to explain research to a broad audience, including non-experts
  • Passion and enthusiasm for being involved in this activity


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