Reducing the estimated 931 million tonnes of annual food waste will be a major step forward in the fight against climate change risks, according to a new report from the United Nations.
An estimated 931 million tonnes of food, or 17% of total food available to consumers in 2019, went into the waste bins of households, retailers, restaurants and other food services, according to new UN research conducted to support global efforts to halve food waste by 2030.
The weight roughly equals that of 23 million fully loaded 40-tonne trucks — bumper-to-bumper, enough to circle the Earth 7 times.
Food waste has substantial environmental, social and economic impacts according to the UN. For example, at a time when climate action is still lagging, 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed, when losses before consumer level are considered.
The Food Waste Index Report 2021, from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organisation WRAP looks at food waste that occurs in retail outlets, restaurants and homes – counting both food and inedible parts like bones and shells.
The report presents the most comprehensive food waste data collection, analysis and modelling to date, and offers a methodology for countries to measure food waste. 152 food waste data points were identified in 54 countries.
The report found that in nearly every country that has measured food waste, it was substantial, regardless of income level. It shows that most of this waste comes from households, which discard 11% of the total food available at the consumption stage of the supply chain.
Food services and retail outlets waste 5% and 2% respectively. On a global per capita-level, 121 kilograms of consumer level food is wasted each year, with 74 kilograms of this happening in households. The report also includes regional and national per capita estimates.
“Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food and thus reduce hunger and save money at a time of global recession,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.
“If we want to get serious about tackling climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste. The UN Food Systems Summit this year will provide an opportunity to launch bold new actions to tackle food waste globally.”
With 690 million people affected by hunger in 2019, a number expected to rise sharply with COVID-19, and three billion people unable to afford a healthy diet, consumers need help to reduce food waste at home, the UN said.
Countries can raise climate ambition by including food waste in nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, while strengthening food security and cutting costs to households. This makes food waste prevention also a primary area for inclusion in COVID-19 recovery strategies, the UN said.
A growing number of countries have measured food waste in recent years. The reports finds that 14 countries already have household food waste data collected in a way that is compatible with the Food Waste Index.
A further 38 countries have household food waste data where small changes in methodology, geographical coverage or sample size would allow them to create an SDG 12.3-compatible estimate. A total of 54 countries had data for at least one of the three sectors covered by the report.
Data on the breakdown between food and inedible parts wasted is available only in a few high-income countries, and shows a fifty/fifty split on average at the household level. The proportion of inedible parts is an important knowledge gap, and may be higher in lower-income countries, the UN said.