In 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization published a shocking first report assessing global food losses and food waste. It estimated that, each year, one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted.
Food waste has a global economic, environmental and social impact.
Household Economic Impact of Food Waste
The average UK household could save £700 per year, according to Wrap research, by buying only the food it consumes. According to USDA research, the average US family of four wastes nearly $1,500 worth of food each year.
The Impact of Food Waste on Climate Change
When food is lost or wasted, not only the perishable product is wasted but all the resources that went into growing or producing that food, namely water, land, energy, labour and capital.
In addition, food that goes in the trash winds up in landfill, where it creates methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Cutting consumer waste is key to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Social Impact of Food Waste
The Stop Wasting Food movement reports that there are 925 million people starving around the globe. Put into context alongside food waste, the food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people. The food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people, and the food currently lost in Africa could feed 300 million people.
International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste
Food waste is such a prominent problem that it has had its own day dedicated to it since 2019. The International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (resolution A/RES/74/209) is marked on 29 September, "recognising the fundamental role that sustainable food production plays in promoting food security and nutrition".
Where Does Food Loss/Waste Happen?
Food is lost in many ways along the supply chain - during growing, harvesting, packing, transportation, distribution, retail and consumer use.
Food loss happens both up to the farm gate and beyond, due to various factors, according to the UN.
During the growing process, at the farm level, food can be wasted thanks to climatic conditions, mistakes in harvesting times, inefficient harvests and handling practices, as well as marketing limitations.
Storage and transit are also two contributing factors to food waste. Inadequate storage, decisions or conditions can reduce a product's shelf life. Inefficient logistics, processing and packaging processes in transit all contribute to food being trashed.
Once food leaves the farm gate ready to be sold, the prospects of food going to waste don't diminish.
Some food never makes it onto the shelf, being rejected if it doesn't fit a specification of colour, size or shape. Food that does make it onto the shelf, it is limited by its shelf life, as well as being at the mercy of fluctuations in consumer demand.
Once food leaves the supermarket/shop or farm, consumers are responsible for food waste for various reasons, including poor purchasing and meal planning, excess buying, confusion over labels (best before and use by) and poor in-home storage.
Which is the Most Wasted Food?
According to 2016 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, these are the most wasted foods, with the percentages indicating the portion of the world’s total food waste that each food category represents:
Fruits and vegetables, including roots and tubers, have the highest wastage rates of any food.
1- Potatoes, beets, radishes, and carrots — 46.2%
2- Fruits and vegetables — 45.7%
3- Tuna, salmon, shrimp and other seafood- 34.7%
4- Cereal, bread and rice — 29.1%
5- Lentils, green peas, chickpeas and seeds that make oil — 22.1%
6- Chicken, beef and pork — 21.5%
7- Milk, yogurt and cheese — 17.1%
Cutting Back on Food Loss and Waste
Cutting back on food loss and waste is also stated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which calls for halving the per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels, as well as reducing food losses along production and supply chains. Find out how to do your bit below.
How to Reduce your Domestic Food Waste?
When it comes to domestic or household waste, there are various ways you can help address the problem and make a difference at a household level. As Massimo Bottura says: "a more sustainable future is not built by one but through the collective action of many”.
1. Audit your fridge contents, cupboards, rubbish bin, compost heap and discover what you are wasting and why.
2. Food purchasing - avoid buying more than you expect to eat. Plan your meals and keep an eye on what you already have in cupboards, the fridge etc.
3. Portion sizes - don't cook more than you need to eat to avoid creating leftovers, which you may inevitably throw out.
4. Understand date labels - a 'use by' date is about food safety. If the use by date has passed, you should not eat or serve it, even if it looks and smells okay. If something is getting close to the use by date, you can freeze it. A 'best before' date is about quality.
5. Donate unwanted food that is still good to food banks or charities, or cook for vulnerable neighbours.
6. Check your fridge is the correct temperature - cool your fridge down. The average UK fridge temperature is almost 7°C. It should be lower than 5°C.
7. Purchase 'ugly' fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.
8. Learn how to store food correctly to maximise its shelf life, use up leftovers, compost, and learn how to use scraps and trimmings.