What is Food Loss and Waste?
Transitioning to Sustainable Food Systems : Reducing Food Loss and Waste
Between 691 and 783 million people in the world faced hunger in 2022 and more than 3.1 billion people in the world were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021, and this situation is exacerbated by current conflicts.
When we lose and waste food, we are throwing away precious resources that could have been used to feed hungry people. Food loss and waste reduction is thus key to achieving greater global food security, as well contributing to transition to sustainable food systems.
As the world’s population continues to grow, our challenge should not be how to grow more food, but how to feed more people while wasting less of what we already produce.
Our food systems are part of the problem. With tonnes of edible produce squandered each year – never making it all the way from farm to fork – food loss and waste are examples of the larger inefficiencies of our food systems. They have negative impacts on food security and nutrition, as well as on economic development and environmental sustainability.
To fix our relationship with nature and strengthen food security, we should not simply focus on growing more food, but also on reducing food loss and waste in a sustainable manner. Prioritizing the reduction of food loss and waste is necessary for the transition to sustainable food systems that use natural resources efficiently, lessen planetary impacts, and ensure food security and nutrition.
Food Loss Waste & the Triple Planetary Crisis
While hunger and food security continue, an estimated 13 % of the world’s food is lost in the supply chain from post-harvest prior to the retail stage of the supply chain (FAO 2022); a further 17 % of food is wasted in households, food services and in retail (UNEP 2021).
Currently, many of the world’s agrifood systems are unsustainable, as they degrade agricultural land, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity and consume groundwater. Food systems are also vulnerable to external climate and other shocks, partly because of the impact on the environment.
Action is required to transform agrifood systems globally, to improve their resilience, efficiency, sustainability and inclusiveness in ways that positively impact food security, enable healthy diets, and contribute to better nutritional outcomes. All this must be achieved, however, while balancing trade-offs to mitigate the effects upon our natural resource base (land, water, biodiversity) and climate.
We need to urgently accelerate the pace of actions to reduce food loss and waste, and transform agrifood systems, so as to meet the SDG 12.3 Target, and that set by the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) – with tangible benefits for people and the planet.
- Food loss and waste generates 8-10% of GHG emissions (IPCC 2019)
- Greenhouse gas emissions are generated at every step of the food supply system – production, handling, transportation, storage and distribution – whether the food is consumed or not.
- GHG emissions linked to food loss and waste are affecting water supplies, accelerating desertification and drought, and worsening the unpredictability and severity of weather events.
- Rotting food waste in landfills adds to climate change by generating methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Food loss and waste reduction is a major strategy to cut methane emissions.
Chemicals and Pollution Action
- 71% of municipal solid waste (of which food is the single largest component in many countries) ends up in landfills that are one of three key sources of global methane emissions.
- Fertilizers used for food production have produced more than 400 ocean “dead zones”.
- 28% of the world’s arable land is used to produce food that is wasted, rather than being used to feed those most in need.
- Food that is not eaten consumes a quarter of the world’s freshwater use by agriculture, is grown on a farmland area greater than the size of China.
- When food is wasted, so are the natural resources and wildlife sacrificed to our food system.
- Target 16 of the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) among other issues, also calls for “halving global food waste by 2030.
Benefits of taking action
There is massive potential to reduce the emissions of the sector while delivering benefits across the sustainable development agenda.
Reducing food loss and consumer food waste can have a positive impact on a wide range of social, economic, and environmental benefits:
- Reducing food loss and waste can save massive amounts of money. The food produced that is wasted every year is worth well over $1 trillion.
- Reducing post-harvest food loss can increase smallholder incomes. Investing in sustainable post-harvest technologies such as sustainable cold chains, processing, and packaging, accompanied by good practices, would also help to lift people out of poverty.
- Food waste costs the average household $900 (UK), $1,352 (Canada), $1,900 (USA) and $2,170 (Australia) per year, according to recent studies by WRAP.
Addressing food loss and waste, and ensuring that what is grown gets eaten, is a powerful way to empower farmers, improve access to affordable healthy diets, make efficient use of natural resources, lower farming inputs and all associated emissions. These factors will translate into climate benefits both from an adaptation and a mitigation point of view.
- Project Drawdown identifies ‘Reducing Food Waste’ as the #1 most impactful climate solution. Cutting food waste at home is one of the best ways to reduce our individual climate footprints.
- Including food loss and waste and sustainable diets in revised climate plans, policymakers can improve their mitigation and adaptation from food systems by as much as 25 per cent.
- Halving food loss and waste would help countries to realize their climate commitments under the Paris Agreement and help companies in their race to NetZero.
The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 12 and Indicator 12.3
The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 12 seeks to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Target 12.3 calls for cutting in half per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level and reducing food losses along production and supply chains (including post-harvest losses) by 2030.
Public and private entities as well as consumers from across the food systems, must work to cut food loss and waste to enhance the use of natural resources, mitigate climate change and support food security and proper nutrition for all. The International Food Loss and Waste: Get Involved guide offers key messages, facts and figures, and actions that stakeholders can take to help reduce food loss and waste.