The Global Benefits of Reducing Food Loss and Waste, and How to Do It
One-third of all food produced globally by weight is lost or wasted between farm and fork — that's more than 1 billion tonnes. Converted into calories, this equates to 24% of the world’s food supply going uneaten. At the same time, 1 in 10 people globally remain malnourished.
This scale of food loss and waste harms not only human health and nutrition but also economies and the environment. Wasted food takes a major financial toll, costing the global economy more than $1 trillion every year. It also fuels climate change, accounting for approximately 8%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
And if current trends persist, food loss and waste will double by 2050.
Here, we delve into the scope of this challenge and the global benefits of reducing food loss and waste, as well as solutions at the individual, local and national levels.
What Causes Food Loss and Waste?
While food loss and food waste are often talked about together, these terms encompass different issues throughout the food system. Food loss refers to loss at or near the farm and in the supply chain, for example, during harvesting, storage or transport. Food waste occurs at the retail level, in hospitality and in households.
Food loss and waste are caused by a wide range of issues, from technological challenges to consumer behaviors. Some common drivers of food loss include:
- Inadequate technology: Poor infrastructure, such as roads that flood or are hard to travel consistently, can prevent food from making it from farm to table. Lack of cold storage is another major concern for ensuring food can arrive fresh to markets. Farmers may also struggle with inadequate equipment such as old or inefficient machinery that makes it difficult to harvest all of a crop.
- Suboptimal packaging: How foods are packaged can make a big difference in the length of time they stay safe to eat. Many people are justly concerned about the environmental impacts of excessive packaging, but it’s important to remember that correct packaging can help foods stay fresher for longer, thereby reducing spoilage and the associated methane emissions that result from wasted food. An underappreciated fact is that the environmental impact of wasted food is greater than that of packaging waste. So, while it’s important to limit this waste, it’s also important to use correct packaging to reduce food spoilage.
Some common reasons for food waste include:
- Poor food management: Examples include insufficient skills and knowledge among staff who prepare food, which can lead to unnecessary waste during cooking, and inflexible procurement requirements such as retailers only stocking perfect-looking produce or not accepting a farmer’s oversupply of crop. Food waste can also occur when retailers and food providers do not adequately forecast and plan for demand to meet supply (or vice versa).
- Consumer behaviors: Households account for the majority of food wasted at the consumer and retail level. This often results from a lack of awareness of the scale of the issue and insufficient education about how to properly use up and store food at home. Food waste also stems from norms and attitudes that say wasting food is normal, as well as concerns about possible risks of eating food past its sell-by or use-by date label.