Food Waste & Food Loss: Stats, Causes, Solutions, & More

Food waste and food loss is a bigger issue than most think.

It happens at different stages of the food lifecycle – between food being produced on the farm, and when it arrives in your house or on your plate.

It also occurs in different ways in developed, and developing countries.

In this guide we summarise relevant stats, causes, how much food is wasted and lost daily and yearly, foods that are most commonly wasted, the effect of food waste, potential solutions, and more.

 

Summary – Food Waste & Food Loss

There is a difference between food loss and food waste

Food loss may occur more in the production and distribution stages of the food supply chain.

It might results more from the food systems themselves

Food waste on the other hand is food that is or once was fit for human consumption, but has been discarded or sent to waste for some reason – mainly caused by economic behaviour, poor stock management, consumer behavior or neglect 

On a country level – Americans currently waste the equivalent of a third of the daily calories they consume per day

Food waste rates differ between countries – the US isn’t the only high waste country

Globally, we waste one third to one half of all the food we produce

Nuts and seeds, potatoes and mixed potato dishes, and table oils and salad dressing, might have the lowest waste rates

‘High quality diets’ tend to have the highest waste rates

Fruits and vegetables (and roots and tubers, and also soup) tend to have higher waste rates (these are perishable foods), followed by dairy, meat and mixed meat, and cereals (like corn, wheat and rice – which are popular for both animal feed, and human consumption). Some fish and seafood can be wasted in high rates in some instances depending on how fresh it is, how it’s sold and how it’s stored and consumed

According to some estimates, 40 to 50% of all fruit and vegetables in some countries are wasted

It’s worth noting that although meats are wasted as a lower rate (14 to 20%), meat is more resource intensive to produce, and the life of the animal is wasted too.

It’s possible to break food waste down into the nutrients we waste the most – carotenoids have the highest % waste

There are different general causes for food loss and waste at each stage of the food lifecycle – that lifecycle being growing/harvest, post harvest, food processing, transport, retail, and consumption. 

A general outline of those causes might be …

Crop stage but before harvest – pests, weather/climate, and growing conditions

Harvest – harvesting machinery not being effective with picking up suitable crop, economic factors and standards regarding quality and appearance of the food, as well as culling

Food processing – pests in storage, improper handling, a lack of protection or preservation of the food, food not meeting safety standards

Retailers – food lacking proper packaging, lack of understanding over food labels and expiration dates, strict sell by dates, retail stores’ policies over when to throw away food, retail stores’ policies over how to handle thrown out and excess food (whether it’s donated or not), contractual agreements between farmers and retailers that can incentivize surplus supply and consequently waste/loss, supermarkets rejecting safe and edible produce from farmers because of size and color requirements

[Specifically for fish – fish can be discarded for aesthetic reasons, or because they are the wrong size or species]

Consumption – consumers reject oddly shaped or slightly discolored food, consumers pass up edible food because of confusion over ‘best before’ and similar expiration dates and food labeling, people not storing food at home properly, a different attitude towards food in wealthy and developed countries (low income countries see food as precious, whereas wealthy countries may see it as abundant and disposable), and fresh produce going off quicker than preserved and canned foods

Using the ‘best before’ food labelling point as an example – a % of the population may be unaware that in some countries, ‘best before’ (according to some food standards) refers to the best quality of the food, and not safety. People may throw away edible and safe food, not knowing this fact. A ‘use by’ date can mean something entirely different (the foodstandards.gov.au resource explains these two in greater detail for Australian standards)

Developed/industrialized countries, and developing countries, may also lose or waste food primarily at different stages of the food supply lifecycle …

Developing countries might lose more food at the pre consumer stage – on farms, or immediately post harvest on the way to market. This might be due to financial, managerial and technical constraints, as well as limited ability to harvest efficiently and properly, a lack of adequate protection in packing for food (spoiling and squashing of food occurs in soft bags, and packing that isn’t airtight), and a lack of cold storage technology (so fresh food goes off or spoils)

Developed countries tend to waste more food after farming and transport stage – at the retail and consumer stage. This might be due to seller and consumer attitudes and behaviors towards food, a lack of awareness and understanding over food labels and expiration dates at the retail stage, lack of co-ordination in the supply chain, cosmetic standards for food, and generally more food lost or wasted in supermarkets, restaurants and homes. A lack of co-ordination between different parties across the whole supply chain is another reason

Going deeper into the % of food lost at the different stages of the food supply chain in different countries …

In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels

In industrialized countries like North American and parts of Oceania, more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels, whereas that % can be lower than 10% in places like Southeast Asia and Subsaharan Africa. Some estimates say those in developed countries might throw away 10x more food than those in developing countries

Overall, some estimates say 30 to 50% of all food produced globally is lost before reaching the consumption stage

Per capita food waste, per capita food production, and calories wasted per person are all much higher in industrialized countries on average too

In developed countries, some estimates show that 3 x as much calories are wasted compared to developing countries.

It’s worth noting that one stage of the food supply lifecycle can influence waste and loss at another stage – such as retailers/supermarkets causing more waste/loss at the farming stage because farmers might know that certain produce will be rejected anyway

Different estimates put the total global cost of food waste annually at $750 billion to $1 trillion [and some estimates say that if you add environmental impact to this figure, it adds another $700 billion]

The financial cost of food loss and waste in industrialized is more than double that of developing countries according to some estimates (roughly US $680 billion in industrialized countries and US $310 billion in developing countries)

In the US, dairy makes up a large % of the total cost of wasted food (about 90 of the total 160 billion)

Estimates indicate 30 to 40% of food produce is wasted in the US, and some estimates indicate 60% of that happens at the consumer level.

Since 1974, data indicates the US’ food waste in calories has increased from 900 calories to 1400 calories today

Roughly 30% of all purchased food in the UK is thrown away.

Australians might throw away 20% of the total food they purchase.

What some people don’t consider is that food waste and loss has an indirect impact on the environment, resource depletion and sustainability – such as pollution, but also the wasting of agricultural resources/inputs that are used to produce that food

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

Agricultural resources and inputs used to produce food wasted at the consumer level might include water (especially irrigation from ground water supplies), cropland, energy, labor, capital, agricultural chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers, fossil fuels and oil (used in plastic packaing and for fuel), and more

One study (from PLOS ONE) looked at the amount of agricultural inputs – cropland, irrigated water, pesticides, and fertilizers – that were used to produce different wasted food groups in the US.

The results were that foods wasted in Westernized diets (with more processed ingredients and animal products) used more total cropland and nitrogen, potash and phosphorus fertilizer, whilst the waste of foods in ‘higher quality diets’ with more fruits and vegetables (and other plant based crops) use more total pesticide and irrigated water use. In addition to total wasted agricultural inputs, some food groups wasted inputs at a greater rate, even if the total input waste wasn’t as great. See a more detailed breakdown by individual food and crops groups in the guide below

Solutions to reduce food waste and loss are wide ranging, but some solutions might address the main causes of food waste and loss in a geographic region to maximize effectiveness

Solutions might also be directed at the stage in the food lifecycle where the most waste/loss occurs, in the highest waste/loss countries, and at specific high waste/loss food groups

In developing countries, financial investment in farmers, food protection, and cold food and food storage technology might help i.e. invest in the farming, processing, and transport stages

In developed countries, a change in attitude and value towards food, lowering of aesthetic standards at the retail level, more awareness about food labels, and better coordination in the supply chain, could all help

Fruits and vegetables as the most commonly wasted food could be targeted as a food group with the most potential for improvement to minimize waste

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. So, this could be an objective or goal to keep in mind

Solutions and goals related to minimizing food waste and loss should take this into account – how much food waste and loss can realistically be prevented, and how much food waste will inevitably be wasted or lost because of hard limitations, or problems that are too difficult or costly to solve.

Read more potential solutions in the guide below

This is a similar situation to water waste and loss – there’s only a certain amount of recoverable water in the total amount of water we waste and lose in society every day

So, we might focus on potentially recoverable food only

Some food might be able to be either re-directed, donated, or re-used, so as part of a comprehensive solution strategy, this particular options might be considered

It’s also worth mentioning that reducing food waste and loss may have trade offs and limitations, with one such tradeoff being that a reduction in food waste and loss at the processing stage is very difficult with a subsequent lowering of the appearance and quality of the food. Another conflict of interest may be between supermarkets who have to compete with other food retailers and keep their stores stocked for consumers, and the farmers and food suppliers they have contracts with who are sometimes forced to oversupply to meet minimum contract requirements (even though they know food will be either rejected for quality/aesthetic reasons, or rejected because of surplus stock)

 

Some theoretical broad steps to addressing food waste and loss might involve:

Identifying a specific country, and identifying how much food in total that country loses and wastes each year

Looking at the different stages of the food lifecycle, and breaking down loss and waste by total quantity and % share at each stage

Identifying the parties responsible for, and the reasons for food waste and loss at each stage

Identifying the types of foods lost and wasted the most

Identifying what % of what types of foods at each stage can be prevented from being lost or wasted, and what % can also be recovered or re-used for something else (such as composting or feeding animals). What % of food is unavoidable to waste or lose?

Implement goals and solutions at each stage based on the above

 

*A few other notes …

It’s worth paying attention to what is counted as food loss and what isn’t when looking at food waste/loss data and reports

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).

Imported and exported foods have to be taken into account, as well as foods produced and consumed locally.

 

Food Waste vs Food Loss – Difference

There is a difference between food waste and food loss.

We outline this difference in the definitions section below.

 

What Is Food Loss, & Food Waste? – Some Potential Definitions

The exact definitions of food loss and food waste can differ, and can vary in terms of their specificity i.e. there might be no clear definitions for each.

But, general descriptions of each might be:

 

Food Loss

A decrease in the quality of quantity of food.

Food loss might generally happen more in the production and distribution stages of the food lifecycle.

It might be more a result of systems, institutions, the law, or other framework. 

 

Food Waste

Food waste makes up a part of food loss.

Specifically, it might be food that is, or was, fit for human consumption at one point, that is thrown out, discarded (due to being spoiled or expired, amongst other reasons), uneaten, or used for something other than human consumption.

Food waste can happen at any part of the food supply chain, but might happen more after the production and distribution stages, at the retail and consumer stages.

It might be more a result of economic behaviour, poor stock management or neglect.

 

What Is And Isn’t Included In A Food Waste Or Food Loss Footprint

In any food waste or food loss report with data on loss or waste numbers, make sure to read what data has been included, and what has been excluded in the report, as there can be a significant change in the final data based on this.

 

Wikipedia.org provides some further clarification on what might be included and not included in some food loss/waste footprints:

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’

 

Data For, & Reporting On Food Waste

Collecting data for, and reporting on food waste can be like collecting data for and reporting on industrial waste in a lot of ways.

Because there are so many points of waste and the food is constantly moving between locations, it can be difficult to get fully accurate data sometimes.

Additionally, data isn’t always available from each stage or party involved in the supply chain.

So data and reports are a guide.

 

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 an individual’s diet and food habits as well.

High quality diets might be associated with more waste.

In the US, some estimates say around 26% of food is wasted daily.

Some estimates are:

 

United States

From theguardian.com:

American households waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to a pound per person. 

[this amount is] also equal to about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes

 

From journals.plos.org:

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.

This accounts for 30% of daily calories available for consumption [or] one-quarter of daily food (by weight) available for consumption …

 

From sciencedaily.com:

… 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?

The amount of food wasted every year ranges in estimates – anywhere from one third up to one half of all food produced.

One source indicates the amount of food wasted annually could theoretically feed 2 billion people.

As mentioned elsewhere in this guide, the amount of food wasted or lost depends on the country – different countries have different waste rates – both for food loss, and food waste.

Some estimates are:

 

From fao.org:

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.

 

From wikipedia.org:

Global food loss and waste amount to between one-third and one-half of all food produced.

 

From theguardian.com:

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 …

 

From journals.plos.org:

Globally, enough food is wasted every year to feed nearly 2 billion people a 2,100 kcal/day diet

 

Stages Of The Food Supply Lifecycle

There’s different stages to the food supply lifecycle, ranging from growing, through to consumers and consumer waste.

A detailed breakdown of the specific food lifecycle stages might be – growing, harvesting, transporting, processing, transporting again, storage, retail, consumption.

 

From wikipedia.org:

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.

 

From eatresponsibly.eu:

The different stages of food supply include Harvesting, Manufacturing, Distribution, Retail and Consumption

 

From nytimes.com:

The food production and consumption stages from farm to plate are – agriculture, post harvest, processing, retail, and consumption.

 

Causes Of Food Waste & Food Loss

The causes of food waste and food loss are different at the different stages of the food supply lifecycle.

In America in particular, some research suggests that uncertainty over, or lack of understanding of food labels and expiration dates is the leading cause of food waste at the retail stage.

In poorer countries (in terms of wealth), financial constraints, and factors like lack of protection of food goods on the way to market, or lack of cold storage and refrigeration, might be more of a major cause of food loss.

Some of the causes at each stage might include:

 

In General

The wikipedia.org resource in the resources list outlines all the general causes of food waste and loss at each stage of the food supply chain (check it out for a list of all the causes). Those stages are:

– After crop planting and before harvest

– At harvest

– Food processing

– Retailers

– Consumption

 

From fao.org:

[appearance quality standards, and lack of co-ordination between different parties in supply chain contribute to waste and loss]

 

From theguardian.com:

[reasons for food being lost or wasted before getting to the consumer include] unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free and Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, [supermarkets rejecting edible food which doesn’t meet size and color requirements], [supermarkets not having waste reduction commitments], “poor engineering and agricultural practices”, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities

 

Low Income Countries Specifically

From nytimes.com:

[Outlines the ways food gets lost or wasted on the way to market from farms in low income countries – lack of refrigeration and cold storage (so food spoils), not being packed and protected adequately (packed in soft bags and can get squished)]

 

From worldvision.org:

[In low income countries, food waste and loss tends to happen because of deficiencies and limitations in processes, equipment and infrastructure in harvesting, packing, transporting, and getting food to market]

 

From fao.org:

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.

 

Where We Waste & Lose Food – At What Stage Of The Food Supply Lifecycle 

Developing and developed countries might lose food at different stages of the food supply lifecycle.

Some of this has already been outlined above in this guide.

But, to re-hash …

It usually happens early on for developing countries (at farming, harvesting and on the way to market), and the total share of food loss at this stage might be around 40%. And, it usually happens later on for developed countries (at the retail and consumer level – such as wasting food and throwing it out after buying or cooking), and the total share of food loss at this stage might be also be around 40%

In developing countries, it might happen more out of limitations and deficiencies, as well as financial constraints.

Whereas in developed countries, it might happen more out of choice, attitudes, high standards and poor co-ordination in the supply chain.

What is interesting is that one stage such as retail (due to contracts they have set up with farmers and food producers), can lead to waste in other stages such as at the farm stage.

A farm might allow a certain % of their crops to never be harvested or sent off to be processed because they know that food stock won’t meet aesthetic or quality standards in place by retailers.

The stages, and where and how we waste and lose food, are:

 

From fao.org:

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.

In medium and high-income countries food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain.

 

From worldvision.org:

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.

 

From nytimes.com:

In [low income] countries, most of the food waste is on the farm or on its way to market

In wealthier countries like the US and Canada, around 40% of wasted food is thrown out by consumers

 

From nytimes.com:

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 [specifically – look at the large different in waste at the consumption level]:

[North America and Oceania – 33% (Agriculture), 11% (Post Harvest), 10 (Processing), 8 (Retail), 39 (Consumption)]

[South & SouthEast Asia – 31%, 34%, 10%, 16%, 9%]

[Subsaharan Africa – 35%, 36%, 13%, 13%, 4%]

[%’s are also provided for Europe, Japan, Korea & China , North Africa, & West & Central Asia, and Latin America]

See the nytimes.com resource for full % breakdowns

 

From eatresponsibly.eu:

Post-harvest and processing is where 40% of food wastage occurs in developing countries [and] Retail and wholesale accounts for about 5% of wastage.

A total of 40% of wastage in rich countries occurs at the household level [and] People in these countries throw away 10 times more food compared to households in developing countries.

 

From wikipedia.org:

In [developing countries] more than 40% of losses occur at the post harvest and processing stages

… in [developed countries] more than 40% of losses occur at the retail and consumer levels.

 

From theguardian.com:

The IME estimate that 30-50% (1.2-2bn tonnes) of all food produced is “lost before reaching a human stomach” [i.e. before the consumption stage]

 

From Wikipedia.org:

Loss and wastage occur at all stages of the food supply chain or value chain

 

More Insight On Developing vs Developed Countries Food Loss & Waste

Differences in developed vs developing country food waste and loss trends have been outlined above in this guide. 

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.

In developed countries, some estimates show that 3 x as much calories are wasted compared to developing countries.

This is despite both industrialized and developing countries producing similar quantities of food.

Some numbers of developed vs. developing countries and food waste and loss are:

 

From fao.org:

Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 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.

 

From Wikipedia.org:

In developing countries, it is estimated that 400–500 calories per day per person are going to waste [and] in developed countries 1,500 calories per day per person are wasted.

[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

This Wikipedia resource provides more information and stats on food loss and waste by countries and regions around the world.

 

What Food Types Do We Waste Or Lose The Most, & Least?

Nuts and seeds, potatoes and mixed potato dishes, and table oils and salad dressing, might have the lowest waste rates.

‘High quality diets’ tend to have the highest waste rates.

Fruits and vegetables (and roots and tubers) tend to have high waste rates, with dairy meat, and mixed meat following. Fish and seafood can be wasted in high rates in some instances.

One of the reasons for this is the perishability of fruits and vegetables, but there’s also other reasons such consumers bypassing fruit and veg that is isn’t a certain shape or color, people not storing fruits and vegetables properly at home, people simply not valuing fruits and vegetables, and people being quick to throw out stored fruit and veg in favor of buying new fresh fruit and veg.

 

From fao.org:

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.

 

From sciencedaily.com:

Of 22 food groups studied, fruits, vegetables and mixed fruit and vegetable dishes (39 percent of total) were wasted most 

… this is followed by dairy (17 percent), and meat and mixed meat dishes (14 percent).

 

From journals.plos.org, in the US:

Higher quality diets [that include fruits and vegetables and that are health promoting, are wasted at the highest rates]

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 … [and you can read the journals.plos.org resource for a list of these foods]

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).

 

From ozharvest.org:

Almost half of all fruit and vegetables produced are wasted (that’s 3.7 trillion apples).

 

From eatresponsibly.eu, globally:

45% of produced fruit and vegetables, roots and tubers are wasted

35% of harvested fish and seafood is wasted

30% of produced cereals are wasted [with corn, wheat and rice being noteworthy]

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

 

Which Nutrients Do We Waste The Most?

From journals.plos.org … the nutrients that are wasted the most are:

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?

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.

Some estimates add an additional $700 billion to the figure when accounting for environmental damage.

The financial cost of food loss and waste in industrialized is more than double that of developing countries according to some estimates

In the US, dairy makes up a large % of the total cost of wasted food

 

From fao.org:

Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US $680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.

 

From nytimes.com:

The United States as a whole wastes more than $160 billion in food a year.

Dairy products account for the largest share of food wasted, about $91 billion.

 

From ozharvest.org:

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.

 

From toogoodtogo.co.uk:

… one-third of the 4bn tonnes of food produced each year is wasted, costing the global economy nearly $750bn (£530bn) annually.

 

From ozharvest.org:

The [Australian] Government estimates food waste costs the Australian economy $20 billion each year.

 

From eatresponsibly.eu:

750 billion – 1 trillion dollars are thrown away each year along with all the food we waste …

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.

 

How Much Food Is Wasted Or Lost In The United States?

Estimates indicate 30 to 40% of food produce is wasted in the US, and some estimates indicate 60% of that happens at the consumer level.

Since 1974, data indicates the US’ food waste in calories has increased from 900 calories to 1400 calories today

A small summary is provided below:

 

From worldvision.org:

… the United States loses or wastes … 31 percent of the country’s annual available food supply

 

From Wikipedia.org:

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. 

2 Billion people could be fed for a year with the amount the USA throws away each year

 

From Wikipedia.org, in the US:

… 12.7% of all reported waste is food scraps

… 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 perhaps not as much as the US.

Roughly 30% of all purchased food is thrown away.

Some other numbers …

 

From toogoodtogo.co.uk:

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’s] enough to save the average UK family £700 a year and provide six meals a week.

 

From Wikipedia.org:

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

 

From wrap.s3.amazonaws.com:

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

 

How Much Food Is Wasted Or Lost In Australia?

Australians might throw away 20% of the total food they purchase.

 

From australianethical.com.au:

Australians discard up to 20% of the food they purchase. That’s four million tonnes, or roughly 140kg per person of food going to landfill each year

 

From ozharvest.org:

Over 5 million tonnes of food ends up as landfill

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.

 

From goodfood.com.au:

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.

On average, cafes and restaurants bin 120g of every plate served, the equivalent of half a muffin or a small steak.

 

Environmental Impact Of Food Waste & Loss

There is an environmental impact of food waste and loss.

Environmental side effects might include, but aren’t limited to:

– Greenhouse gases from the agricultural sector, and rotting or covered food waste in landfill which usually breaks down under anaerobic conditions 

– Pollution from the run off pesticides and fertilizers through soil, water, etc.

– Plastic pollution from plastic food packaging

– And other potential environmental side effects

 

More information on environmental side effects of food waste and loss …

 

From theguardian.com:

Rotting food also clogs up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

 

From nytimes.com:

Food waste and loss has a huge carbon footprint: 3.3 billion tons of carbon equivalent

 

From ozharvest.org:

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.

 

From goodfood.com.au:

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.

[Food waste in land fill produces methane, compared to food waste in a worm farm or compost system where there is aeration]

 

From eatresponsibly.eu:

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.

 

From Wikipedia.org:

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 CO2 equivalent in the UK

20% of the UK’s Greenhouse Gases are associated with food production, distribution and storage

 

From Wikipedia.org:

In countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, food scraps constitute around 19% of the waste dumped in landfills [and this food waste when covered in landfill can produce greenhouse gases as it breaks down]

 

Agricultural Inputs Used On Different Wasted Food Groups

Food waste and food loss leads to the waste of agricultural inputs used to make them.

Inputs might include irrigated water, cropland, and agricultural chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers

Energy, labor and capital are other resources that can be used at the farm level.

Different food types and diet types can waste agricultural resources in different amounts.

There’s also the indirect use of resources like fossil fuels to run agricultural equipment, transport food, make plastic packaging, and so on.

 

One PLOS ONE study looked at agricultural inputs (cropland, irrigated water, pesticides and fertilizers) used on different food diets, and foods, that are wasted at the consumer level. The two food diet types were a more Westernized diet with more processed ingredients, additives, and animal products like meat and dairy, and a ‘higher quality’ diet with more plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, etc.

Our paraphrased summary of the findings are (and we will refer to the agricultural resources as wasted resources for convenience):

– Higher quality diets were associated with more wasted irrigated water and pesticides (although animal feed does feature somewhat in pesticide waste too)

– Westernized diets were associated with more wasted cropland (in part because foods like fruits and vegetables use less total cropland), and fertilizer waste

– In terms of cropland: hay and feed grains and oilseeds accounted for the most % of wasted cropland, but fruit, vegetables and sweeteners wasted cropland at high rates. Nuts and legumes has the lowest proportion of waste

– In terms of irrigated water: fruits, vegetables and hay were responsible for the most wasted irrigated water.

– In terms of pesticides: fruit, feed grains and oilseeds, and vegetables were responsible for the most wasted pesticides.

–  In terms of fertilizers: feed grains and oilseeds and hay were responsible for the most wasted nitrogen, potash and phosphorus fertilizer.

For a full breakdown and full detail of all the data and numbers, read the PLOS ONE resource listed.

 

Other information on wasted agricultural inputs from food waste at the consumer level …

From fao.org:

Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital …

 

From theguardian.com:

… the volume of discarded food [in the US] is the equivalent to the yearly use of 30m acres of land, 780m pounds of pesticide and 4.2tn gallons of irrigated water. 

Fruit and vegetables require less land to grow than than other foods, such as meat, but require a large amount of water and pesticides.

 

From sciencedaily.com:

[it’s estimated food waste results in] 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

 

From goodfood.com.au:

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.

 

From eatresponsibly.eu:

[Land, water, fertilizer, pesticides, and energy (especially in machinery and transport) are all used in harvesting food]

[We also need to] package, protect and store food [with materials like plastic … and they have their own footprint]

[Landfills are not like composting – they contain anaerobic conditions due to a lack of oxygen]

[eatresponsibly.eu provides stats on water and land used in food production farming]

 

From theguardian.com:

[Food waste wastes 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.

 

From journals.plos.org:

[Of the food that US consumers wasted between 2007–2014 … 30 million acres of cropland [were] used to produce this food every year [or] … 7% of annual cropland acreage.

Nearly 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water were applied to cropland that was used to produce uneaten food.

The majority of wasted irrigation water was applied to cropland used to produce fruits (1.3 trillion gallons), vegetables (1.05 trillion gallons), and hay (1.01 trillion gallons).

 

From Wikipedia.org:

Food waste in the USA accounts for … 1/4 of all freshwater consumption … [and] The consumption of 300 million barrels of oil a year

 

From Wikipedia.org:

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.

But, read more in this guide about the amount of food we produce, why people across the world still go hungry, and the role food waste might play.

 

What Are Reasonable Goals For Reducing Food Waste? (Potential Targets To Aim For)

Some estimates indicate only about a third of food waste consists of truly inedible food, and the rest can be eaten.

We might be able to cut current food waste numbers in half.

Other numbers and estimates …

 

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. 

 

Estimates like these might help countries set reasonable goals for reducing realistic amounts or % of food waste.

 

Food Waste & Loss Solutions – What Can Be Done To Reduce Food Waste & Loss?

Solutions to food waste and food loss might involve the following:

Goals

– Be mindful that only about a third of food wasted is inedible, and some estimations indicate a reasonable goal for reducing food waste might be a reduction of 50%

 

– For businesses specifically, goodfood.com.au gives this rough target – ‘Food businesses may be able to reduce their food waste by up to 40%’

 

General Solutions

– Focus on reducing food waste and loss in the countries with the highest total waste/loss amounts, and the highest waste/loss per capita rates.

Take into consideration the difference between developing and developed countries – causes and solutions will be different in each

 

– In each country, focus on the organisations and individuals that waste or lose food the most – what farmers, food processors, retailers and consumers 

 

– In each country, focus on reducing food waste/loss at the stages of the food supply lifecycle where the most food is wasted or lost

 

– Address the biggest causes of food waste and loss first (reverse engineer causes to come up with solutions – such as cold storage and better packaging on the way from harvest to markets in developing countries)

 

– Focus first on the groups of food that are wasted in the highest amounts, or are wasted at the highest rates

 

– Identify the food that be recovered at the highest rates, or prevented from becoming food waste or lost food at the highest rates, and focus on recovery or prevention of these foods first, compared to truly inedible food, or food that is inevitably going to be wasted or lost

 

Individual Solutions

– Better co-ordination in the supply chain between the different parties, in particular between farmers/food suppliers and retailers like supermarkets

– Investment in infrastructure for food across the whole supply chain, in direct and indirect industries (like transport)

– Particularly in the farming and pre-market and market stages for developing countries (such as metal silos to prevent fungus in grain stock, food transport material like plastic that protects food against squishing and spoiling, and cold storage that keeps the food fresh and protects it from rotting)

– Consider the ways in which supermarkets and retailers can reduce food waste, especially for edible and safe food that becomes surplus food, doesn’t meet aesthetic standards

– Better awareness and understanding of retailers and consumers on food labelling, best before/use by dates (and related expiration dates and labelling), and the differences between food abrasion and food spoilage

Awareness might come from campaigns from advisory and environmental groups, and concentrated media attention.

Wikipedia.org notes that ‘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’

– Consider how consumers in industrialized countries can change their attitude towards food to value it more, and not waste it at such high rates (cheap, abundant and easily accessible food makes this hard though)

– Consumers can plan their food purchases better (by the week, and cutting out impulse buys), and have better food storage methods at home to prevent waste

– Consumers can also stop throwing out leftovers, and eat leftovers the next day instead

– Consumers can order only what they know they will eat when they eat out at restaurants or eat-out stores

– Restaurants, take away stores and other similar food stores can change their food serving sizes, provide food leftover/take home bags for customers, and find ways to make use of their excess food or food waste/loss

– Consumers can either change their diet (the types of food they eat), or change their serving size (the size of each meal) to reduce food waste

– Focus on raising awareness about how consumers can better prepare, store and consume fruits and vegetables to cut down on waste.

Proper storage of other foods will help as well – cold storage and freezing, airtight containers and jars, etc.

– Retailers might be able to donate or redistribute food waste as long as it’s safe to do so, but it would also need to make financial sense, and they would have to be covered in terms of liability and risk by the law

– Better pest control at the farm level and in storage (especially in high heat and humidity countries)

– Grow food in locations that are better suited for agriculture

– Minimize harvesting pick up waste

– Improve stock management

– Consider tradeoffs between economic behavior and food waste

– Alleviate pre consumer stage financial, managerial and technical constraints

– Invest in regular storage, and cold storage technology in countries that need it

– Better protection of goods on the way to market or processing, and better handling of food

– Improving institutional and legal framework for food supply, but there would also likely be tradeoffs to consider

– Easing of cosmetic standards of food (and economic factors that push for higher standard for food quality and appearance)

– Improving contractual agreements between retailers and food producers that encourage surpluses and waste

– Find effective, safe and efficient ways to redistribute or re-use food, whilst removing cost, liability and risk for businesses

– Consider how food waste disposal methods like compost can be of benefit

– Be aware of food waste and loss reduction targets, and what food is actually recoverable and what food is inedible and unusable

– Consider how low waste food groups (that are also affordable and healthy) can be incorporated into diet

– 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 (journals.plos.org)

– Consider the responsibility that both business and individuals have to play in reducing food waste

– Some suggest there needs to be more awareness of a food waste pyramid – reduce waste, feed people in need, feed livestock, compost, bio fuel, and disposal of food (eatresponsibly.eu)

– Be aware that cutting out food waste might have more impact on sustainability in our lives than changing our diets

– 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 (worldvision.org)

– 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 (wikipedia.org)

 

Solutions For Restaurants & Food Service Businesses

For food service businesses:

– Find out where most food waste occurs in food service process

– Consider that most waste might occur on the customer’s plate, so, consider reducing plate/portion size

– Consider what foods the customer is wasting the most. If it’s sides for example (chips, salads, garnishes, sauces, etc), consider making these optional or removing them

– Consider giving customers food leftover bags to take home uneaten food

– Consider adjusting food supply orders for the week to getting smaller amounts of food, but more frequently

– Consider how food preparation processes can be more efficient, and how food waste can be re-used or redistributed elsewhere

– Consider the benefit of]composting and worm farms for leftover food and food waste, and also other options like food waste dehydrators

 

List Of Ways Food Waste Or Lost Food Can Be Redirected Or Re-Used

Some food waste and food loss can also be re-directed, or re-used in some way.

A few of those ways might be …

 

Farming Stages

Farmers … can sometimes use crops that don’t come up to standard for animal feed or fertilizer [so, in this instance, food resources can be redirected instead of wasted or lost] (wikipedia.org)

 

Retail Stage

Some stores that are left with excess food or food waste donate or redistribute this food, but some stores either don’t, or they can’t for legal reasons

 

General

Farmers can work with the government or other businesses to make use of surplus food, or food that doesn’t meet aesthetic standards

Feed people in need

Feed livestock and animals compost

Used for biofuel, or to produce energy

Instead of being sent to landfill, food waste can be sent to worm farms, compost sites, and aerated waste sites to be turned into fertilizer, compost and other products (businesses may be able to save $1000’s of dollars a year with compost over putting food waste in other waste streams)

 

Limitations & Tradeoffs To Reducing Food Waste & Loss

Limitations

There might be some built in hard limitations on how much food waste can be reduced.

– For example – at the food processing level it’s difficult to reduce food waste and loss without affecting the quality of the finished food products

 

Tradeoffs

– In the above example, there’s the tradeoff – Do you want less food waste, or lower quality food products on offer at supermarkets?

– Another tradeoff might be between food waste, and the quality of an individual’s food diet.

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 (sciencedaily.com)

– As identified by theguardian.com, there can also be tradeoffs between food quality, food waste and food safety [at various food supply lifecycle stages] 

 

Conflicts Of Interest

– Supermarkets often have contracts with farmers or food suppliers to meet minimum thresholds of food supply quantities, and minimum quality standards. These conditions and requirements are in place so supermarkets can provide more aesthetically pleasing food than other stores, and also so that customers don’t have to deal with a low or no stock for certain types of food. The tradeoff here is that farmers and food suppliers have to either oversupply (and the supermarket will throw out the excess), or they know a certain % of their edible and safe to eat food will be wasted or thrown out because it doesn’t meet aesthetic standards

So, there’s a a conflict of interest between a free economic market, and sustainable outcomes

 

Food Waste Stats

We’ve listed different stats in the guide above.

But, we may come back and update this section if we find any more relevant stats in the future, such as food waste trends that develop in the future.

 

Sources

1. http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/

2. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/18/americans-waste-food-fruit-vegetables-study

3. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195405

4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180418141508.htm

5. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/climate/food-waste-emissions.html

6. https://www.ozharvest.org/what-we-do/environment-facts/

7. https://www.goodfood.com.au/good-living/how-much-food-do-you-waste-20160909-grd5gk

8. https://www.eatresponsibly.eu/en/foodwaste/1#section-bin

9. https://toogoodtogo.co.uk/en-gb/blog/where-do-we-waste-the-most-food

10. https://www.worldvision.org/hunger-news-stories/food-waste

11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_waste

12. https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jan/10/how-much-water-food-production-waste 

13. http://www.environmentreports.com/waste-not-want-not/#section2

14. https://wrap.s3.amazonaws.com/the-food-we-waste.pdf

15. https://www.australianethical.com.au/blog/food-waste-a-growing-australian-problem/

16. Conrad, Z., Niles, M.T., Neher, D.A., Roy, E.D., Tichenor, N.E. and Jahns, L., 2018. Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability. PloS one13(4), p.e0195405. – https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195405

17. https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/labelling/dates/Pages/default.aspx

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