A total of 931 million tons, or 17 percent, of food sold at consumer-facing levels was thrown out in 2019, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organization WRAP. This includes food sold to retail (e.g., the grocery store) and foodservice businesses, as well as consumer households.
The Food Waste Index 2021 report, released this week, examine’s the world’s progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 12.3, which aims to halve per capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels.
In its own words, the Index 2021 report “sheds new light on the magnitude of food waste, and on the prevalence of household food waste on all continents, irrespective of country income levels.”
It also notes that until now, the scale of the world’s food waste problem hasn’t been fully understood. A previous 2011 estimate from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) famously found that one-third of all the world’s food goes to waste. However, researchers acknowledged “a lack of household food waste data outside of Europe and North America at the time of their estimate. Now, the Index 2021 suggests that consumer-level food waste is “more than twice the previous FAO estimate” and that it is found “to be broadly similar across country income groups. This deviates from the oft-told narrative that consumer-level food waste mainly happens in developed nations, while food production and transportation losses are the territory of developing countries.
Mapping 152 food waste data points across 54 countries, the report also found:
- Of the 931 million tons of food wasted at consumer levels, 61 percent came from households, 26 percent from foodservice, and 13 percent from retail.
- Roughly 8–10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food not consumed.
- A total of 690 million people worldwide were hungry in 2019, and that number is expected to rise.
- Worldwide, 3 billion people “cannot afford a healthy diet.”
The report does more than simply highlight these rather bleak statistics. In an effort to support SDG 12.3, it also includes a methodology by which countries can measure their food waste at consumer-facing levels. “Countries using this methodology will generate strong evidence to guide a national strategy on food waste prevention, that is sufficiently sensitive to pick up changes in food waste over two- or four-year intervals, and that enables meaningful comparisons between countries globally.”
Reducing food waste can cut greenhouse gas emissions, lessen pollution, conserve land and other resources, and make food more available worldwide. The UNEP’s new analysis and methodology aims to do that by helping more countries around the world take actions driven by more and better data about food waste.