An epidemic of food waste

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 food waste by 2030. The weight roughly equals that of 23 million fully loaded 40-tonne trucks – enough to circle the Earth bumper-to-bumper seven times.

The Food Waste Index Report 2021, from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organization WRAP (one of the U.K.’s top five environmental charities), looks at food waste that occurs in retail outlets, restaurants and homes – counting both food and inedible parts like bones and shells. The report presents the most comprehensive food waste data collection, analysis and modelling to date, and offers a methodology for countries to measure food waste. More than 150 food waste data points were identified in 54 countries.

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 this waste 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 kg of consumer-level food is wasted each year, with 74 kg of this happening in households. This also means that 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. To build on the work of the report, UNEP will launch regional working groups to help build countries’ capabilities to measure food waste in time for the next round of reporting in late 2022.

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