Nearly 200 food suppliers, including some of the largest producers in the world, have pledged to cut their food waste in half by 2030.

The companies, which make such products as Rice Krispies cereal, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Spam, have joined the 10x20x30 initiative, a global effort to slash the staggering amount of food that is discarded every year, the World Resources Institute, which supports the program, announced Wednesday. The big food makers — a list that includes Unilever, PepsiCo and Nestle Global — join some of the world’s largest food retailers, who last year signed on to the campaign.

The companies will make annual reports about their food loss and waste and will be encouraged to share the information on the Food Waste Atlas, a searchable website. But how they meet their targets will vary, an institute representative says.

Deanna Bratter, the head of sustainable development for Danone North America, whose portfolio includes Dannon and Activia yogurts and Silk creamers, says her company is looking at options. At the low-sugar line Two Good, she says, the effort might entail using up surplus produce in special “limited batch” flavors. Elsewhere, she says, the company is looking for ways to turn what would have been waste into animal food or compost.

“Food waste has always been a pain point for the industry,” she says.

The idea behind 10x20x30 was to get 10 major retailers — a group that wound up including Walmart, Kroger and the parent of Giant Foods — to make a similar pledge, and then for each to enlist 20 of their suppliers to commit, too, in the hopes of meeting a goal set at the 2015 United Nations General Assembly to halve the world’s food waste.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, about 30 percent of the world’s food is unharvested or thrown away at various points in the supply chain. And all that loss is a big contributor to climate change, accounting for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. An oft-cited analogy posits that if food waste constituted its own country, it would trail only the United States and China in its contributions to global warming.

Food manufacturers are only part of the equation. The vast majority of food waste — about 80 percent — happens in homes and in consumer-facing businesses, such as grocery stores and restaurants, according to a report by the nonprofit ReFED. Food manufacturers account for only 2 percent of the problem, while consumers are responsible for 43 percent, per the report.

Brian Roe, a professor in the department of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State University, said producers can do more — not just to eliminate food waste in their operations, but to ultimately help keep consumers from pitching so much, too. “There may be systems that help the consumer to waste less food so it’s not just a matter of consumers acting badly,” he says. Those might include the right packaging and labeling, better instructions, or smaller portion sizes, he notes. 

Roe said the willingness of big manufacturers to sign on to such an initiative is encouraging, but he’s hoping that collaborations will lead to more transparency and data sharing. That way, companies will know what’s working and what’s not. Now, he says, it might not be clear that an action taken at one step on the supply chain actually keeps more food out of landfills at the end.

For example, if a farmer has a bumper crop of tomatoes one year, it might seem like a good thing to save them. But, Roe said, it might not be such a good idea if the tomatoes get further along the supply chain — where they may have been transported and used other resources along the way — and still wind up getting thrown away. “Any data to help connect the dots can help develop a systems-level view of the problem,” he said.

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