Laura Batlle-Bayer, head of the Agrifood line of research:

“Agrifood is one of the biggest industries in Spain and has a significant global environmental impact. Our group explores different ways of boosting sustainability in the industry, both in Spain and worldwide, through strategies such as life cycle assessment of food throughout the supply chain, applying the principles of the circular economy to both production and consumption and promoting healthier and less environmentally impactful consumption habits.”


  • School of Environmental Science and Technology, Dalian University of Technology, China
  • Universidad de Cantabria, Spain: Plan Nacional Coordinado

Key papers


The main purpose of this article is to assess the nutritional and economic efficiency of food loss and waste (FLW) along the supply of 13 food categories included in the Spanish food basket by means of the definition of a new method which combines two indexes.


The nutrient-rich foods index and the economic food loss and waste (EFLW) index were combined by means of linear programming to obtain the nutritional cost footprint (NCF) indicator under a life cycle perspective. The functional unit used was the daily supply of food for a Spanish citizen in year 2015.

Results and discussion

Results showed that vegetables and cereals were the food categories most affected by the inefficiencies in the food supply chain under a nutritional perspective, being agricultural production and household consumption the main stages in which the nutritional content of food is lost or wasted. Moreover, according to the NCF index, vegetables represented 27% of total nutritional-economic wastage throughout the entire Spanish agri-food chain. They are followed by fruits, which add up to 19%. Hence, specific food waste management strategies should be established for these specific products and supply stages. Finally, the sensitivity analysis performed highlighted that results were mostly independent from the importance attributed to either nutritional or economic variables.


The methodology described in this study proposes an indicator quantifying the nutritional-economic cost of different food categories in the Spanish food basket. This NCF indicator makes it possible to define reduction strategies to promote the use of food waste fractions for waste-to-energy valorization approaches or the extraction of different types of pharmacological, chemical, or cosmetic compounds.

Dietary choices, a main driver of food production, play a significant role within the climate change arena. Consequently, there is a growing trend on publishing research assessing the environmental impacts of diets and dietary shifts, mainly following the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. However, several methodological issues still bring a challenge, especially in the definition of the function and the quantification of the functional unit (FU).
The FU is the reference unit of an LCA study, and it is the basis for allowing comparison among different systems. This short communication defines the function of diets as the supply of the daily required amount of calories and nutrients, and it proposes a novel FU that accounts for the energy intake and the nutritional quality of the diet. In order to compare the performance of the proposed FU to the most commonly ones used for diet LCAs (mass-based and isocaloric), dietary scenarios within the Spanish context are assessed. On the one hand, using a mass-based FU, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are underestimated, since the nutrition properties of food are not considered, and, on the other hand, the isocaloric substitution does not allow comparison among diets with different levels of energy intake. In contrast, the proposed caloric-and nutrient-corrected FU allows to compare diets that differ in energy and nutritional quality in a fairer way. Finally, it is recommended to use this FU for future diet LCAs.

The great concern regarding food loss (FL) has been studied previously, but in an isolated way, disregarding interdependencies with other areas. This paper aims to go a step further by proposing a new procedure to assess different waste management alternatives based on the nexus approach by means of an integrated Water-Energy-Food-Climate Nexus Index (WEFCNI). The environmental profile of the waste management techniques is determined using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) which, in combination with Linear Programming (LP), explores the optimal aggregation of weighting factors that lead to an aggregated nexus index. The management of residues from the anchovy canning industry in Cantabria (Spain) has been used as a case study, considering the three current applied alternatives: (i) valorisation of FL as animal feed in aquaculture (food waste-to-food approach), (ii) incineration of FL with energy recovery, and (iii) landfilling with biogas recovery. The last two considered the use of energy recovered to produce a new aquaculture product (food waste-to-energy-to-food scenarios). The results indicate that incineration is the best performing scenario when the nutritional energy provided by the valorisation alternative is not high enough and the valorisation technology presents the highest water consumption. Therefore, a minimisation in the consumption of natural resources is suggested in order to improve the application of circular economy within the sector. The use of the nexus index as an environmental management tool is extendable to any food system with the aim of facilitating the decision-making process in the development of more sustainable products.

Reducing food losses (FL) has been identified as an essential means of increasing food security, while reducing pressure on natural resources. To assess the reliability of future strategies to reduce and manage FL along the food supply chain (FSC), not only their quantification but also the ‘qualification’ in both economic and nutritional terms must be considered. The methodology proposed in this work allows to quantify FL at the distinct stages of the FSC (agricultural production, postharvest and storage, processing, distribution, households and extradomestic consumption). In addition, economic and nutritional FL are estimated. A Nutritional Food Losses Footprint (NFLF) index is proposed to assess and balance the variables described. This index is used to define food recovery strategies focused on those food categories and stages of the FSC with lesser efficiency. NFLF distinguishes between food losses from cradle to gate (FL-ctog) and food losses from gate to grave (FL-gtog) depending on the scope of the analysis. The former provides information to producers, while the latter creates awareness among consumers. Furthermore, the potential for FL reduction is estimated through the quantification of avoidable and unavoidable FL.

Our study is focused on the Mediterranean region, in particular on Spain. Almost 20% of the national food production is estimated to be lost or wasted. Vegetables, fruits and meat result the food categories less efficient. Household consumption is the main responsible of FL generation, followed by agricultural production. Each Spanish citizen is estimated to throw away around 180€ per year, while a 76% could be saved.

Consumer food waste usually exceeds food losses when a developing country transitions to a developed one. With this notion, China, which is experiencing socioeconomic transition, is projected to be a future hotspot of global food waste. However, the mechanism of food waste generation is more complex than that of food losses, because various driving factors entangle with each other in a non-linear way. Here, by linking household survey data and reviewed life-cycle-assessment dataset, we quantified food waste in Chinese typical provinces, and developed a Bayesian Belief Network (BBN) model to reveal the mechanism of household food waste generations. We explored the possibilities of food waste reduction based on the Chinese contextualized scenario analysis, and further revealed the association of food waste and food security at global scale. Results show that the average food waste varies among Chinese provinces ranging from 12 to 33?kg cap−1 yr−1, with carbon footprint from 30 to 96?kg CO2e cap−1 yr−1. Animal-derived food accounts for 5–18% in weight, but disproportionately for 18–40% of carbon footprint. The accuracy of BBN model is 78%. Sensitivity analysis shows that refrigerator ownership ranks first in determining food waste generations, compared to other factors of income, education, household size, and urbanization levels; and ages of family members. At the global scale, household food waste climbs sharply when food-security status of a certain country rises. China with its barely satisfied food-security status would astonish the world if we followed the global waste trajectory due to its largest population. However, according to our BBN-based scenarios, it is too early to say that China will become a global hotspot of food waste considering its specific socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds in its rapid urbanization period.

Key projects

El objetivo principal de WASTE4GREEN es mitigar los efectos adversos sobre el Medio Ambiente y la Salud Humana de los pesticidas de origen químico que se utilizan actualmente en la protección del cultivo de fruta de hueso. Se demostrará la eficacia de 2 formulados de origen natural, seguros y sostenibles, cuyas materias activas se obtendrán a partir de residuos agroindustriales, que permitirán sustituir a los pesticidas de origen químico que se emplean en frutales de hueso. Los formulados serán susceptibles de ser comercializados en la UE en las etapas posteriores al proyecto.

El objetivo principal de CERES es conseguir un consumo de alimentos más responsable y sostenible a través de dietas más saludables que sean respetuosas con el medio ambiente y que específicamente contribuyan a la mitigación del cambio climático.

El objetivo del proyecto es desarrollar una ACV de los diferentes sistemas de envasado para la distribución de frutas y verduras en España.

El objetivo es diseñar e implementar estrategias para una gestión sostenible del sector de la anchoa del Cantábrico bajo una perspectiva de ciclo de vida. Estas estrategias deberían centrarse principalmente en aumentar el uso de las aguas residuales generadas actualmente, a fin de obtener coproductos de mayor valor añadido que puedan utilizarse en nuevos mercados verdes.

El objetivo del Proyecto HAproWINE es contribuir al desarrollo sostenible en el sector vitivinícola de la Comunidad Autónoma de Castilla y León a través de la promoción del uso racional y sostenible de los recursos mediante un enfoque de ciclo de vida; la oferta y la demanda de productos con una huella ecológica menor a lo largo de su ciclo de vida; la prevención, recuperación y reciclaje de los residuos de la bodega; y la síntesis de compuestos de alto valor añadido que pueden obtenerse de las diferentes corrientes de residuos de vino. Los principales resultados del proyecto incluyen la identificación de las diferentes corrientes del sector vitivinícola, los compuestos de valor añadido que se pueden obtener de los flujos de residuos del vino y las estrategias para obtenerlos. También se ha desarrollado una etiqueta que distingue al vino ambientalmente responsable, junto con la definición de las Reglas de Categoría de Producto y las Declaraciones Ambientales de Producto para series de las bodegas participantes.

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UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and
Climate Change ESCI-UPF

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