Food waste and food loss at different stages between the farm and when it arrives in your house or on your plate is a bigger issue than most think.
It occurs in different ways in developed or developing countries.
In this guide we summarise how much food is wasted and lost daily and yearly, foods that are most commonly wasted, the effect of food waste, and more.
Summary – Food Waste & Food Loss
- There is a difference between food loss and food waste
- Food loss is essentially food lost in the production and distribution segments of the food supply chain
- Food waste on the other hand is food that has spoiled or expired, mainly caused by economic behaviour, poor stock management or neglect.
- On a country level – Americans currently waste the equivalent to a third of the daily calories they consume per day
- Globally, we waste one third to one half of the food we produce
- Perishable foods like fruits and vegetables have the highest waste rates, compared to dairy, meats and grains. Fish and seafood can also have a high waste rate depending on how fresh it is and how it’s sold
- There are various general causes for general food loss and waste at each stage of the food lifecycle – growing/harvest, post harvest, food processing, transport, retail, and consumption
- Developing countries might lose food at the pre consumer stage – on farms, and transporting and processing food (due to financial, managerial and technical constraints, as well as a lack of storage and cold storage technology + other reasons)
- Developed countries tend to waste a lot more food at the retail and consumer stage (due to seller and consumer attitudes and behaviors towards food, lack of co-ordination in the supply chain, and cosmetic standards for food, attitudes towards the food waste, + other reasons)
- Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US $680 billion in industrialized countries and US $310 billion in developing countries
- Different estimates put the total global cost of food waste annually at $750 billion to $1 trillion
- What some people don’t consider is that food waste and loss has environmental pollution side effects, and also involves the wasting of agricultural resources/inputs
- Environmental pollution side effects might include greenhouse gases from the agricultural sector and rotting food waste in landfill, pollution from pesticides and fertilizers (run off, water pollution, etc), plastic pollution from plastic food packaging, and so on
- The waste of agricultural resources and inputs arising from consumer level food waste might include water (especially irrigation from ground water supplies), cropland, energy, labor, capital, agricultural chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers, and more
- Solutions to reduce food waste and loss are wide ranging, but some solutions might be geared at some of the biggest causes of loss/waste to maximize effectiveness
- In developing countries, financial investment in farmers, and cold food and food storage technology might help
- In developed countries, a change in food related expectations, behaviors and attitudes could help reduce food waste (especially in regards to preventable consumer and retail level food waste), as well as a lowering of aesthetic standards at the retail level, and better co-ordination in the supply chain. Better understanding of food labels could help too
- Fruits and vegetables as the most commonly wasted food could be targeted as a food group with the most potential for improvement
- The US as a high food waste per capita nation could could be targeted as a country with the most potential for improvement in reducing food waste (along with other high waste nations)
- It is estimated that enough food is produced in the world to feed everyone, but, food wasted in developed countries can’t get to the people who most need it. And, a lot of food produced in countries where people go hungry ends up being exported to higher income countries where there ends up being a lot of food waste
- Some estimates indicate that of all food wasted, only about a third is truly inedible, and that the current food wastage rate can be cut by about half
*It’s worth paying attention to what counted as food loss and what isn’t. For example, some numbers include food directed to livestock or to compost as food loss, but, directing food to these avenues can have benefits (which need to be taken into account).
What Is Food Loss, & Food Waste?
The exact definitions of food loss and food waste can differ, but, general descriptions of each might be:
- Food loss is “[a] decrease in quality or quantity of food …”.
- Within that is food waste, defined as food fit for human consumption that is thrown out or used in other ways.
- Food waste or food loss is food that is [either] discarded [or] lost uneaten.
- Generally, food loss or food waste is food that is lost during any of the four stages of the food supply chain: (1) growers, (2) processors, (3) retailers, and (4) consumers.
- Precise definitions are … often defined on a situational basis
- For example, the UN defines food loss and waste as:
- Food Loss – the decrease in quantity or quality of food. Food loss in the production and distribution segments of the food supply chain is mainly a function of the food production and supply system or its institutional and legal framework.
- Food Waste – … (which is a component of food loss) is any removal of food from the food supply chain which is or was at some point fit for human consumption, or which has spoiled or expired, mainly caused by economic behaviour, poor stock management or neglect.
- Food waste is a part of food loss, but the distinction between the two is not clearly defined
- Food redirected to non-food chains (including animal feed, compost or recovery to bioenergy) is counted as food loss or waste.
- Plants and animals produced for food contain ‘non-food parts’ which are not included in ‘food loss and waste’ (these inedible parts are sometimes referred to as ‘unavoidable food waste’
How Much Food Do We Waste Or Lose Every Day?
It varies depending on the country – some countries waste or lose more food than others per capita.
It can also depend on a person’s diet and food habits.
Some estimates in the United States are:
- American households waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to a pound per person. It is also equal to about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes
- US consumers wasted 422g of food per person daily, with 30 million acres of cropland used to produce this food every year. This accounts for 30% of daily calories available for consumption, one-quarter of daily food (by weight) available for consumption, and 7% of annual cropland acreage.
- Americans waste nearly a pound of food per person each day, but the exact amount of food we trash differs by how healthy your diet is.
- Higher quality diets were associated with higher levels of food waste.
- Between 2007-2014, consumers wasted nearly 150,000 tons of food per day
How Much Food Do We Waste Or Lose A Year?
Estimates range anywhere from one third up to one half of all food produced:
- Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
- Global food loss and waste amount to between one-third and one-half of all food produced.
- As much as 50% of all food produced in the world ends up as waste every year …
- As much as 2bn tonnes of food are wasted every year – equivalent to 50% of all food produced …
- Globally, enough food is wasted every year to feed nearly 2 billion people a 2,100 kcal/day diet
Causes Of Food Waste & Food Loss
The general causes of food waste and food loss differ depending on the stage of the food lifecycle – producing, processing, retailing and consuming:
Some of those causes might include (via wikipedia.org):
- Food loss can occur after crop planting (and before harvesting) from pest infestation and severe weather
- Temperature and precipitation (or lack of can cause food loss)
- On average, farms in the US lose up to 6 billion pounds of crops every years because of unpredictable conditions
- Machinery can cause waste if harvesters pick up unripe crop, or if they only pick up part of the crop
- Economic factors can have an influence – such as standards for quality and appearance – this is usually called culling
- Note that culling can also occur at the processing, production, retail and consumption stages
- Farmers though can sometimes use crops that don’t come up to standard for animal feed or fertilizer
- Food waste and loss at this stage can be difficult to estimate
- In storage, pests and micro organisms contribute to loss – particularly in countries with higher heat and humidity
- Handling of food, and shrinkage or weight and volume of food can create food waste and loss
- At food processing level, it’s difficult to reduce food waste and loss without affecting the quality of the finished food products. Food safety standards need to be met and not compromised or risked, and this can lead to waste and loss
- Packaging protects food from damage and preserves freshness in transportation to factories, and at retail level … so, food without proper packaging can lead to food waste
- [research] suggests that the leading cause of food waste in America is due to uncertainty over food expiration dates, such as confusion in deciphering best before, sell-by or use-by dates [and, Better regulation and clearer understanding of labelling on packaging might fix this]
- Retail stores throw away large quantities of food. Usually, this consists of items that have reached their either their best before, sell-by or use-by dates. Food that has passed the best before, and sell-by date, and even some food that passed the use-by date is still edible at the time of disposal, but stores have widely varying policies to handle the excess food. Some stores donate or redistribute food, while others don’t, and this food gets wasted
- Retailers also contribute to waste as a result of their contractual arrangements with suppliers. Failure to supply agreed quantities renders farmers or processors liable to have their contracts cancelled. As a consequence, they plan to produce more than actually required to meet the contract, to have a margin of error. Surplus production is often simply disposed of.
- How food looks can lead to food waste in stores. In the United States, an estimated six billion pounds of produce is wasted each year because of its appearance. The USDA publishes guidelines for the appearance of different foods. Some foods are safe and edible, but don’t meet marketing or appearance standards, and are thrown out
- The fish industry also contributes to the annual amount of food waste because of cosmetic standards that the fish are held up to. Nearly “2.3 million tonnes of fish (are) discarded in the North Atlantic and the North Sea each year.” Approximately 40 to 60 percent of “all fish caught in Europe is discarded – either because they are the wrong size or species.”
- Consumers are directly and indirectly responsible for wasting a lot of food, which could for a large part be avoided if they were willing to accept [safe, but less aesthetically pleasing foods such as food that comes in odd shapes and discolourations,] or has a best-before date that is approaching or has passed, but is still perfectly fine to eat.
Other causes or reasons for food waste might include:
- Post harvest and processing techniques that don’t sufficiently protect the food (in developing countries)
- In developing countries, the causes are usually at retail and consumer level – wasting food and throwing it out after buying or cooking
- Vegetables and fruits are the main food group wasted – people don’t want to buy funny looking fruits and vegetables in shops, these food groups go off quicker, and people in general either don’t store their food at home properly … or they just throw it out
Where & How Do We Waste & Lose Food – At What Level Or Stage Of Food Production & Consumption?
Developing and developed countries might lose food at different stages of the food lifecycle – early on for developing countries, and later on for developed countries.
In developing countries, it might happen more out of limitations and deficiencies, whereas in developed countries, it might happen more out of choice, attitudes, high standards and poor co-ordination in the supply chain.
The stages and the ways food is lost/wasted at those stages include:
- In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels
- In industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.
- At retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance.
- In developing countries food waste and losses occur mainly at early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities.
- In medium- and high-income countries food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. Differing from the situation in developing countries, the behaviour of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries. The study identified a lack of coordination between actors in the supply chain as a contributing factor.
- In [low income] countries, most of the food waste is on the farm or on its way to market. In South Asia, for instance, half of all the cauliflower that’s grown is lost because there’s not enough refrigeration.
- Tomatoes get squished if they are packed into big sacks.
- In Southeast Asia, lettuce spoils on the way from farms to city supermarkets.
- Very little food in poor countries is thrown out by consumers. It’s too precious.
- In wealthier countries like the US and Canada, around 40% of wasted food is thrown out by consumers
- The food production and consumption stages from farm to plate are – agriculture, post harvest, processing, retail, and consumption.
- By weight, the following %’s of food are wasted or lost at each stage in the following regions:
- North America and Oceania – 33% (Agriculture), 11% (Post Harvest), 10 (Processing), 8 (Retail), 39 (Consumption)
- Europe – 36%, 11%, 12%, 7%, 34%
- Japan, Korea & China – 27%, 20%, 9%, 13%, 31%
- North Africa, & West & Central Asia – 30%, 22%, 17%, 15%, 15%
- Latin America – 40%, 22%, 15%, 12%, 11%
- South & SouthEast Asia – 31%, 34%, 10%, 16%, 9%
- Subsaharan Africa – 35%, 36%, 13%, 13%, 4%
- In low-income countries, most food loss happens due to limited harvesting capabilities, poor storage, or deficiencies in transportation, processing, or infrastructure.
- In medium- and high-income countries, food loss more often happens at the consumer’s end — thrown out at the supermarket, restaurant, or at home.
- The different stages of food supply include Harvesting, Manufacturing, Distribution, Retail and Consumption
- Post-harvest and processing is where 40% of food wastage occurs in developing countries.
- Retail and wholesale accounts for about 5% of wastage. But this is only what stores actually put in the bin themselves and does not take into account the influence they have on waste in other parts of the supply chain. For example, they might reject the produce of a farmer or motivate consumers to buy more than they actually need.
- A total of 40% of wastage in rich countries occurs at the household level. People in these countries throw away 10 times more food compared to households in developing countries.
- The IME estimate that 30-50% (1.2-2bn tonnes) of all food produced is “lost before reaching a human stomach”.
- [some of this is blamed on] unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free and Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, along with “poor engineering and agricultural practices”, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities.
- Major supermarkets have also been blamed for food waste by rejecting crops of edible fruit and vegetables which don’t meet their exacting standards for their physical characteristics (such as size and colour). Up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested due to this type of practice the report claims.
- Loss and wastage occur at all stages of the food supply chain or value chain.
What Foods Do We Waste Or Lose The Most?
Fruits and vegetables tend to have higher waste rates than dairy, meat (fish can be an exception to this) and grains.
One of the reasons for this is the perishability of fruits and vegetables.
- Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
- Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy plus 35% for fish.
- Of 22 food groups studied, fruits, vegetables and mixed fruit and vegetable dishes (39 percent of total) were wasted most — followed by dairy (17 percent), and meat and mixed meat dishes (14 percent).
- US consumers wasted 422 g – nearly one pound–of food per person per day from 2007–2014.
- Nearly 26% of food was wasted by US consumers every day from 2007–2014.
- Higher quality diets were associated with greater amounts of food waste … This is largely due to fruits and vegetables, which are health-promoting.
- Fruits and vegetables and mixed fruit and vegetable dishes accounted for 39% of food waste, followed by dairy (17%), meat and mixed meat dishes (14%), and grains and grain mixed dishes (12%).
- Remaining foods and dishes each accounted for less than 10% of total food waste: other foods and dishes (mostly candy, soft drinks, and other beverages), salty snacks, soup, potatoes and mixed potato dishes, nuts and seeds, Mexican dishes, eggs and mixed egg dishes, and table oils and salad dressing.
- Soup, fruits and vegetables and mixed dishes, and other foods and dishes had the highest waste rate (approximately 30% each).
- Nuts and seeds, potatoes and mixed potato dishes, and table oils and salad dressing had the lowest rates of food waste (12–18% each). Over 800 kcal (795–840 kcal) were wasted per person per day, representing about 29% of total daily energy intake.
- Of all nutrients, carotenoids had the greatest percent waste (31%) and vitamin D had the lowest percent waste (25%)
- Almost half of all fruit and vegetables produced are wasted (that’s 3.7 trillion apples).
- Globally, 45% of produced fruit and vegetables, roots and tubers are wasted. They are a highly perishable food group
- Globally, 35% of harvested fish and seafood is wasted
- Globally, 30% of produced cereals are wasted. The most produced cereals are corn, wheat and rice. Wheat and rice are the most consumed crops by humans in the world, as corn is used mainly as animal feed. Wheat in particular is found in an enormous range of foods, from bread to noodles, crackers and biscuits.
- Globally, 20% of produced meat is wasted. Wasting meat is particularly troublesome because it is the most resource-intensive of foods. Not only is a lot of water and land thrown away with the meat, but also the life of an animal.
- Globally, 20% of produced dairy products are wasted
In terms of nutrients that are wasted the most:
- Of all nutrients, carotenoids had the greatest percent waste (31%) and vitamin D had the lowest percent waste (25%).
How Much Money Does Food Waste & Loss Cost Us?
Estimates put the global annual cost of food waste at around $750 million to $1 trillion.
This figure does not include the costs of wasted resources or the cost of environmental problems caused by agriculture for wasted food either.
- Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US $680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.
- Dairy products account for the largest share of food wasted, about $91 billion.
- One third of all food produced is lost or wasted – around 1.3 billion tonnes of food –costing the global economy close to $940 billion each year.
- …. one-third of the 4bn tonnes of food produced each year is wasted, costing the global economy nearly $750bn (£530bn) annually.
Food Waste & Loss – Developing vs Developed Countries
Differences in developed vs developing country food waste and loss trends have been outlined above.
But, what we can also see below are some additional stats.
Per capita food waste, per capita food production, and calories wasted per person are all much higher in industrialized countries on average.
- Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
- Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
- Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.
- Total per capita food production for human consumption is about 900 kg a year in rich countries, almost twice the 460 kg a year produced in the poorest regions.
- In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production, while in developed countries much food – about 100 kilograms (220 lb) per person per year – is wasted at the consumption stage.
- In developing countries, it is estimated that 400–500 calories per day per person are going to waste, while in developed countries 1,500 calories per day per person are wasted.
- In the former, more than 40% of losses occur at the post harvest and processing stages, while in the latter, more than 40% of losses occur at the retail and consumer levels.
- The total food waste by consumers in industrialized countries (222 million tonnes or 218,000,000 long tons or 245,000,000 short tons) is almost equal to the entire food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes or 226,000,000 long tons or 254,000,000 short tons).
- Wikipedia also has a table for food waste by region, and the different stages waste is created at. They also outline food waste of individual countries.
Food Waste & Loss By Country & Region
How Much Food Is Wasted Or Lost In The United States?
We’ve provided some of those figures above in this guide, especially American figures for daily and yearly food waste.
A small summary is provided below:
As a guide:
- … the United States loses or wastes 133 billion pounds of food per year … That’s 31 percent of the country’s annual available food supply, or 429 pounds per person, per year.
- Americans’ food loss was worth about $161.6 billion at retail prices in 2010 …
- About 40% of all food produced in the USA is waste
- Food waste has increased in the USA since 1974 – from 900 calories in 1974, to around 1400 calories today. That is 150,000,000,000,000 calories each year
- 2 Billion people could be fed for a year with the amount the USA throws away each year
- In the USA, 12.7% of all reported waste is food scraps
- Also in the USA – 60% of food is wasted at consumer level, 20% at production level and 20% at distribution level
How Much Food Is Wasted Or Lost In The UK?
The UK wastes a lot of food, but not as much as the US …
- In the UK, consumers throw away ten million tonnes of food every year – and many millions of tonnes of that food could have been eaten.
- That shocking statistic is enough to save the average UK family £700 a year and provide six meals a week.
- About 8.3 million tonnes of food is wasted by UK households every year
- About 30.8% of all food purchased in the UK is thrown away
- The UK pays for but does not eat up to 11.3 Billion pounds of good food each year. This is twice the amount the UK government spends on foreign economic aid
- The average person throws away 70kg of food a year
- It costs 466 pounds each year in terms of wasted food costs
- The UK wastes 4.8 billion grapes, 2.6 billion slices of bread, 1.9 billion potatoes, 2.6 billion apples, 1 billion tomatoes, 775 million bread rolls, 440 million sausages, 200 million bacon rashers, 120 million meat meals, 282 million yoghurts, and 259 million chocolates and sweets
- In the UK 1.2 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year in it’s packaging.
- 570 million UK pounds of whole and unopened fruit is thrown away each year
- 277 million UK pounds of whole and unopened veg is thrown away each year
- 333 million UK pounds of unopened bakery goods is thrown away each year
How Much Food Is Wasted Or Lost In Australia?
- The Government estimates food waste costs the Australian economy $20 billion each year.
- Over 5 million tonnes of food ends up as landfill, enough to fill 9,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.
- One in five shopping bags end up in the bin = $3,800 worth of groceries per household each year.
- 35% of the average household bin is food waste.
- Over 644,000 people now receive food relief each month, one third are children.
- The average Australian throws away one in five grocery bags of food each week – that’s around $1000 of food thrown in the bin every year.
Environmental Effects Of Food Waste & Loss, & Wasted Resources
What some people don’t consider with food waste and loss is that there is both:
- An associated environmental impact
- and, a waste of inputs and agricultural resources used to produce the food.
Environmental side effects might include greenhouse gases from the agricultural sector and rotting food waste in landfill, pollution from pesticides and fertilizers, plastic pollution from plastic food packaging, and so on.
Waste of resources might include irrigated water, cropland, agricultural chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers, and energy, labor and capital. Different food types can waste resources in different amounts.
There’s also the indirect use of resources like fossil fuels to run agricultural equipment, transport food, and so on.
More information on environmental side effects and wasted resources …
- Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.
- With the 150,000 tons of food that American households throw out each day, the volume of discarded food is the equivalent to the yearly use of 30m acres of land, 780m pounds of pesticide and 4.2tn gallons of irrigated water.
- Rotting food also clogs up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
- Fruit and vegetables require less land to grow than than other foods, such as meat, but require a large amount of water and pesticides.
- Researchers estimate that food waste corresponded with the use of 30 million acres of land (7 percent of total US cropland) and 4.2 trillion gallons of water annually.
- Consumer food waste corresponded to harvests produced with the use of 780 million pounds of pesticide and 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, annually.
- Healthier diets used less cropland than lower quality diets, but led to greater waste in irrigation water and pesticides, which are used at higher rates on average for growing fruits and vegetables
- Wasting that much means a lot of water is wasted, too — the equivalent of three times the size of Lake Geneva
- 8% of greenhouse gases heating the planet are caused by food waste.
- If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after USA and China.
- Eliminating global food waste would save 4.4 million tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.
- Throwing away one burger wastes the same amount of water as a 90-minute shower.
- Australian foodservice businesses produce more than 250,000 tonnes of food waste every year, generating around 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalents) annually.
- On average, cafes and restaurants bin 120g of every plate served, the equivalent of half a muffin or a small steak.
- Food waste and organic material that goes to landfills…
- People assume it’s similar to compost and going back to the soil but they’re two totally different processes.
- In a worm farm or compost system, there’s a lot of aeration, which has a big impact on the process of breaking down food and so on, whereas in landfill it gets covered over.
- In landfill, some of the gas it creates as the food starts to degrade is methane, which is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
- Food waste represents thousands and thousands of litres of wasted water from paddock to plate – for example, just 1kg of wasted beef equates to 50,000 litres of water going straight down the drain.
- Land and water is used in harvesting food
- Fertilizer and pesticides are used in harvesting
- There are hidden energy and carbon costs from machinery and transport
- There are indirect costs like the packaging and plastic that protect and store food
- Food in landfills releases methane when it starts rotting, as there is not enough oxygen in the landfills for the food to decompose normally like when we put it in our garden compost. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas that is over 25 times more potent than CO2.
- A total of 1.4 billion ha of land was needed to grow the amount of food that is annually wasted, an area three times the size of the European Union!
- Water is a fundamental resource for food production. One apple alone requires 125 l to grow. If we order a 200 g chicken steak for lunch, we are asking the waiter for 865 l of water. If the meat is instead beef, we are asking for 3,083 l of water, which is enough to grow 10 kg of potatoes.
- 750 billion – 1 trillion dollars are thrown away each year along with all the food we waste. That’s a huge amount of money! But if we count the value of the environment that has been destroyed to make the food we throw away, then we can add an additional 700 billion dollars to the bill.
- The carbon footprint of wasted food is 3.3 Gt of greenhouse gases annually. If all wasted food in the world was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA.
- The publication entitled ‘Global food: waste not, want not’ also aims to highlight the wastage of energy, land and water. Approximately 3.8tn cubic metres of water is used by humans annually with 70% being consumed by the global agriculture sector. The amount of water wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer is estimated at 550bn cubic metres.
- Food waste in the USA accounts for …
- 1/4 of all freshwater consumption
- The consumption of 300 million barrels of oil a year
- If we stop wasting food, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road. That’ll save 15 million tonnes of C02 equivalent in the UK
- 20% of the UK’s Greenhouse Gases are associated with food production, distribution and storage
- In countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, food scraps constitute around 19% of the waste dumped in landfills
- Food which goes uneaten can account for vast quantities of water waste, with food waste being the largest area the average US citizen contributes to water waste.
Is There Enough Food Produced In The World To Feed Everyone? And, How Does Food Waste Impact World Hunger?
Yes – in terms of quantity, there’s enough food produced worldwide to feed the world population.
What Are Reasonable Goals For Reducing Food Waste?
Some estimates by environmentreports.com:
- About a third of food waste consists of truly inedible food, but the rest could have been eaten [so, we know that one third of food waste can’t realistically be saved]
- Some studies indicate that we could reasonably cut current food waste rates by half, or from about 24 percent to 12 percent.
- Halving food waste would also roughly halve its environmental impacts.
What Can Be Done To Reduce Food Waste & Loss? – Solutions
Looking at the causes of food waste and loss can help reverse engineer some solutions.
For example, investment in refrigeration and cold storage technology in developing regions could help minimize food loss and waste at the pre consumer level.
Solutions to reduce food waste and loss can be aimed at:
- The country level – developed vs developing countries, and specific countries (e.g. high waste countries like the US will have their own solutions based on how and where they are wasting and losing food)
- The organisation and individual level – what farmers, food processors, retailers and consumers can do as individuals
- The food lifecycle stages – what can be done at each stage from farm to consumer
Some solutions to help minimize food waste and food loss might include:
- In Developing Countries – Strengthening the supply chain through the direct support of farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food and packaging industry could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste.
- In Developed Countries – Better consumer behavior and attitudes towards food waste. Farmer-buyer agreements can be helpful to increase the level of coordination. Additionally, raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.
- Attention needs to be paid to food quality, as well as food wastage – without sacrificing food safety
- Consumers can be better educated on fruit and vegetable storage (which is a high waste food category)
- Supermarkets can do more to reduce food wastage – just four of the 10 largest grocery chains in the US have specific food waste reduction commitments. A further four out of the 10 don’t prevent the waste of food considered too cosmetically “imperfect” to sell. Walmart achieved the highest grade, a B, while Aldi US was the worst. Trader Joe’s, Target and Whole Foods all did poorly, ranked with a D.
- There can be better funding for food recovery and wider use of composting, which is only available to about one in 10 Americans
- Simultaneous efforts to improve diet quality and reduce food waste are necessary.
- Increasing consumers’ knowledge about how to prepare and store fruits and vegetables will be one of the practical solutions to reducing food waste.
- More research can be done on the relationship between food waste, diet quality, nutrient waste, and multiple measures of sustainability: use of cropland, irrigation water, pesticides, and fertilizers.
- … consumers should increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables and simultaneously waste less of them.
- Education on preparing and storing fresh fruits and vegetables, and knowing the difference between abrasion and spoilage, is critical.
- Other policy efforts underway range from revising sell-by dates and labels for consistency, food planning and preparation education.
- Low quality diets may produce less food waste, but they come with a range of negative impacts like low nutritional value and higher rates of cropland wasted – so food waste solutions must focus on higher food quality and less waste
- Food costs less in developed countries and is in abundance. It is wasted more regularly at the consumption stage. It isn’t valued for what it is worth. Attitudes towards the value of food can be changed in developed countries
- Some of the most basic fixes are at the bottom end of the supply chain: Metal grain silos have helped against fungus ruining grain stocks in countries in Africa. In India, the F.A.O. is encouraging farmers to collect tomatoes in plastic crates instead of big sacks; they squish and rot less.
- Higher up the food chain, supermarkets are trying to make a dent by changing the way best-before labels are used — making them specific to various food categories to discourage consumers from throwing out food that is safe to eat — or trying to sell misshapen fruits and vegetables rather than discarding them.
- Some countries are trying to regulate food waste. France requires retailers to donate food that is at risk of being thrown out but is still safe to eat. European Union lawmakers are pushing for binding targets to curb food waste by 50 percent by 2030, echoing a United Nations development goal; negotiations have been underway since June. Some countries pushing back on the idea of continent wide targets.
- Cutting waste would have the same impact, if not more, than changing diets or what we eat
- Global food waste is a massive social, economic and environmental problem that can’t simply be put back on large businesses to fix, it needs every individual and individual business to work together to resolve it.
- Reducing food waste within food businesses (like restaurants for example)…
- Food businesses may be able to reduce their food waste by up to 40%
- This can be done generally by more efficient preparation processes, reusing items typically thrown away, and ordering smaller amounts of fresh food more frequently
- Majority of food waste is occurring out the front, on our plates. The solution to this is smaller portions or plate sizes, and businesses can charge less for the meal too
- The most common things left on plates are those considered to be sides – things like chips, salad, garnish. We can minimize these things too
- Businesses can give customers food leftover bags to take uneaten food home
- Businesses are also becoming more proactive in dealing with waste with methods like composting and worm farms.
- Some herbs and chillis can be grown on-site too
- An alternative method of disposing of food waste is with a food waste dehydrator. “Similar to composting but much faster, they reduce the size of the waste by about 80% in 24 hours by using extreme heat and microbes. It produces this beautiful, nutrient-rich material which can then be used as a soil additive just like a compost.” Businesses can even sell the material back to their inner-city customers to use in their own herb gardens or small courtyard gardens.
- Another obvious – and socially rewarding – option for businesses dealing with surplus food is to donate it to people who need it most. Food rescue organisations such as Oz Harvest, FareShare, Second Bite and Food Bank are all on hand to rescue and redistribute quality surplus food, while apps such as Yume and Olio can also be used by businesses (Olio can also be used by households) to notify people of excess stock that would otherwise go to waste.
- Reducing food waste in households…
- Cook to recipes, go shopping with a list, start meal planning. Again, buy small amounts of fresh produce more frequently, because fruit and veg are the number one things that get thrown away.
- The second highest thing that gets thrown away by households is leftovers. Dish up an extra serving and put this straight in the fridge of freezer so you have a ready-made meal for lunch or dinner whenever you need it – it’s ideal for single households or time-poor professionals.
- You should also ensure you’re storing your food correctly. Keep food in airtight containers or jars and take care when storing fruit and vegetables.
- A freezer is a great option for storing meat, bread and leftovers, but you might not also be aware that your freezer is also perfect for extending the life of those vegetable items you often don’t get through, such as garlic and ginger. Herbs can also be frozen in olive oil in an ice cube container, ready to be thrown into a meal while you’re cooking.
- People can also be mindful of use by dates – don’t throw the food out before the use by date
- Organisations like World Vision and the THRIVE program help farmers in Tanzania and other countries access improved seed varieties, fertilizers, and storage facilities.
- World Vision staff there teach farmers proven methods to increase crop yield.
- They help communities work together to more effectively move their products to market.
- Simply cut down on food waste at the individual level
- Store food properly at home
- Be aware of food expiration dates
- Have smaller portions of food
- Be aware of food waste pyramid – reduce waste, feed people in need, feed livestock, compost, bio fuel, and disposal of food
- Campaigns from advisory and environmental groups
- Concentrated media attention on the subject
- As alternatives to landfill, food waste can be composted to produce soil and fertilizer, fed to animals, or used to produce energy or fuel
- Consumers can plan their food purchases and only buy what they know they will eat
- Smart packaging that indicates more clearly when the food is spoiled can be introduced
- Farmers can work with the government or other businesses to make use of surplus food – an initiative in Curitiba, Brazil called Cambio Verde allows farmers to provide surplus produce (produce they would otherwise discard due to too low prices) to people that bring glass and metal to recycling facilities (to encourage further waste reduction).
- Food waste and organic waste can be separated in municipal waste collection, and disposed of in a beneficial way
- Food waste and organic waste can more often be fed to animals
- Food waste can be used for composting, vermi-composting and fertiliser
- It is estimated that one business can save up to $30,000 annually on garbage disposal costs with the implementation of the required composting
- Anaerobic digestion is another options for food waste
- Commercial liquid food waste is a problem at the moment – if it can be treated, this is another form of waste that can be minimised
- The UK observed a 21% decrease in avoidable household food waste over the course of 5 years with consumer marketing and education on food waste