Food waste is a pervasive problem all around the world, not just among developed nations. Currently, over 800 million people are suffering from severe malnutrition, a shocking thought when one-third of all the food that is intended for human consumption is wasted or lost. Food waste negatively affects the environment, the economy, food security, and nutrition. Successfully dealing with the issue remains a great challenge in the coming years. Here are 25 shocking facts about food waste you need to know.
1. Roughly one-third of the food produced that is intended for human consumption every year- around 1.3 billion tons and valued at USD$1 trillion- is wasted or lost. This is enough to feed 3 billion people.
2. Food waste ends up wasting a quarter of our water supply in the form of uneaten food. That’s equated to USD$172billion in wasted water.
3. Taking into account all the resources used to grow food, food waste uses up to 21% of freshwater, 19% of fertilisers, 18% of cropland, and 21% of landfill volume.
4. The water used to produce the food wasted could be used by 9 billion people at around 200 litres per person per day.
5. The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people, in Latin America 300 million people, and in Africa 300 million people.
6. Annual per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kiograms a year for Europeans and North Americans, while in the south and southeastern Asia, it is 6-11kgs.
7. Food loss and waste account for about 4.4 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
8. If food loss was a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US.
9. Developed and developing countries waste or lose roughly the same amount of food every year, at 670 and 630 million tons respectively. Around 88 million tons of this is in the EU alone.
10. Breaking it down by food group, losses, and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops and fruit and vegetables, 20% for oil seed and meat and dairy, and 35% for fish.
11. If 25% of the food currently being lost or wasted globally was saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million people around the world.
12. By the mid-century, the world population will hit 9 billion people. By then, food production must be increased by 70% from today’s levels to meet this demand.
13. Food losses translate into lost income for farmers and higher prices for consumers, giving us an economic incentive to reduce food waste.
14. In developing countries, 40% of losses occur at the post-harvest and processing stages, while more than 40% of losses in developed countries occur at the retail and consumer levels.
15. At the retail level, large quantities of food are wasted because of an emphasis on appearance half of all produce is thrown away in the US because it is deemed too “ugly” to eat; this amounts to 60 million tons of fruits and vegetables.
16. An area larger than China and 25% of the world’s freshwater supply is used to grow food that is never eaten.
17. In China, more than 35 million tonnes of food – equivalent to about 6% of the country’s total food production – are lost or wasted in the country annually. Food loss primarily occurs in restaurants and households as Chinese culture sees hosts order more food rather than less to show hospitality to their guests.
18. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals aim to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.
19. Promotions in supermarkets may lead to more food waste; we may buy more food that we don’t necessarily need if we think we are getting more for our money.
20. According to a survey conducted by Respect Food, 63% of people don’t know the difference between the “use by” and “best before” dates. Foods with “use by” dates are perishable and must be eaten before the given date. Foods with “best before” dates can be eaten after the given date, but they won’t be of the best quality.
21. Because of quality standards that rely too much on appearance, crops are sometimes left unharvested and rot.
22. In Europe, 40-60% of fish caught are discarded because they do not meet supermarket quality standards.
23. In the US, organic waste is the largest source of methane emissions, which is a greenhouse gas that has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
24. Emerging new internet trends such as “Mukbang”, where personalities and social media influencers livestream videos of themselves binge-eating, are leading to excess food waste.
25. If we stopped throwing food away, we can save the equivalent of 17 metric tonnes of CO2, which can be the environmental equivalent of keeping five cars off the roads in the UK.
These facts tell us that we need to reduce the amount of food waste that we produce or at the very least, learn how to reuse leftover food to feed humans and animals or to produce energy and compost to close nutrient cycles. We hope these food waste facts have inspired you to rethink your consumption habits!
What Can I Do?
1. On A Personal Level
Ways to approach climate action within our personal lives (hint – it evolves personal action but is not focused on small behavioural changes, which whilst worthwhile will not get us there):
- Joining a community can be one of the best ways to increase your impact. First, it can enable you to make hundreds of connections in one go. Second, a group of people working together can have more impact than individuals. If you are not already, take action by becoming an EO Member to support our mission to encourage a billion climate activists.
- Reflect on the concept of Effective Altruism, a project that aims to find the best ways to help others, and put them into practice.
2. On A Professional Level
Ways to approach climate action within the workplace:
- Maintain your career path but consider donating a portion of your income to organisations that are focused on achieving meaningful & impactful goals and call out your boss if the company or organisation you work for does not have clear policies that will result in reduced harm to the environment and a pathway to Net Zero.
- Ask your boss to support EO by bringing the whole team on board with EO company membership – and take action together.
- Reconsider your career path, with excellent advice here.
3. On A Political Level
Ways to approach climate action as a voter or political actor (even if you can’t vote):
- Protest – make your feelings known – become a vocal and passionate advocate with friends and family (without being over pushy) of the need for climate action. We need a billion activists to turn this ship around.
- Join organisations that are organising climate actions and protests locally, whether in your city, district or even at school.
- Vote (if you can) for politicians who will champion effective climate action by governments.
- Vote for parties or organisations that espouse self-reform and the adoption of ‘Ministers of the Future’ into government.
You might also like: 6 Must-See Documentaries About Food Waste