Food waste dramatically exceeds previous estimates, according to a new UN Environment Programme report. Its findings reinforce the need for global intervention, with better data collection a key priority.
UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report 2021 finds household and food service waste is 2.4 times higher than previous estimates – or 931 million tonnes in 2019.
At eight to ten per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, if food waste was a country it would be the third largest emitter after the USA and China.
“Businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.
“Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food, reduce hunger and save money at a time of global recession.
“The UN Food Systems Summit this year will provide an opportunity to launch bold new actions to tackle food waste globally.”
The United Nations aims to halve global food waste by retailers and consumers and minimise food loss production and supply chains by 2030.
Households discard 11 per cent of food, while food services and retail outlets waste five and two per cent, respectively.
Only 14 countries gather data compatible with the Food Waste Index
Food is also lost in the field and along the supply chain, meaning overall a third of food is never eaten.
Per capita waste was the same in high and lower income countries, challenging the long-held view that food waste is a problem only in developed countries.
Inedible food parts were included in the report, but data scarcity means it remains unclear what proportion they constitute.
“Understanding how food waste is disaggregated between its edible and inedible parts will help stakeholders understand the problem and design solutions,” said the report, recommending changes for national measurement strategies.
Edible parts represent avoidable waste that could be managed better in the supply chain or home. Inedible parts such as animal bones, eggshells, and fruit pits are unavoidable waste that could be directed into animal feed, fertiliser and other useful purposes.
The report said only 14 countries gather data compatible with the Food Waste Index.
“Without this information, governments, businesses and other organisations struggle to make a case to take action, and lack the information to prioritise their efforts,” said the report.
To improve waste measurement, it provides a detailed methodology for policy makers. With small changes, 42 countries could create compatible estimates.