Food waste tops 900 million tonnes according to UN research

Posted: 5 March 2021 | | No comments yet

Food waste has to be a priority for governments, businesses, and citizens alike if the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved according to the UN.

931 million tonnes of food was wasted in 2019

An estimated 931 million tonnes of food, or 17 percent 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 wasted food by 2030.

The weight roughly equals that of 23 million fully-loaded 40-tonne trucks – enough bumper-to-bumper to circle the Earth seven times.

The Food Waste Index Report 2021, from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organisation WRAP, looks at occurrences in retail outlets, restaurants and homes – counting both food and inedible parts like bones and shells.

The report finds that in nearly every country that has measured food waste, it was substantial, regardless of income level. It shows that most of it comes from households, which discard 11 percent of the total food available at the consumption stage of the supply chain. Food services and retail outlets waste five percent and two percent 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.

The problem has substantial environmental, social and economic impacts. For example, at a time when climate action is still lagging, the researchers behind the report claim eight to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed, when losses before consumer level are taken into account.

“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.”

“For a long time, it was assumed that food waste in the home was a significant problem only in developed countries,” said Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP, a UK-based NGO which works with government and businesses to improve sustainability. 

“With the publication of the Food Waste Index report, we see that things are not so clear cut.

“With only nine years to go, we will not achieve SDG 12 Target 3 if we do not significantly increase investment in tackling food waste in the home globally. This must be a priority for governments, international organisations, businesses and philanthropic foundations.”