Food waste. A global problem

Food waste, a global problem

Every year 1.6billion tonnes of food ends up being wasted. It’s a huge problem which affects the economy, the environment and society - both globally and in your country. It’s something that has been specifically recognised by the UN as part of their sustainable development goals to ‘achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’.

What is food waste?

Food waste or food loss is edible food that is discarded or lost uneaten.

It’s not just the food itself that goes to waste; it’s all the resources that were used in the production of it - from water to land and labour. An example of this is that 70% of all the water in the world is used in agriculture.

One third of the world’s food is being lost or wasted.

We can see the effects of this on:

Environment: When food is thrown away it ends up in landfill where it decomposes and releases methane, a dangerous Greenhouse Gas that affects our environment. In fact, 8% of the global greenhouse gas emissions comes from food waste. This means that if food loss and waste were its own country it would be the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (after the US and China).

Economy: Annually the cost of food waste to the economy is about $1.2 trillion.

Society: Food waste is a particularly terrible issue when you think that 870 million people around the world are living in hunger. That’s equivalent to two- and-a-half times the population of the U.S.

In some countries more than 40 % of the food produced is lost or wasted somewhere along the food supply chain. It is a solvable problem, however awareness is currently quite low and therefore there’s a lot of work to be done to bring this to the forefront of people’s minds. If we continue the way we’re going, the Boston Consulting Group has estimated that food loss and waste will hit 2.1 billion tons, worth $1.5 trillion by the year 2030.

Food waste chain

There is food lost or wasted all along the food supply chain from farm to table.

Production – In this early stage of production, the demands of society for ‘perfect'-looking fruit and vegetables contributes greatly to the 32% of the global food (Boston Consulting Group, 2018) that gets wasted in the production chain.

Handling, processing and storage - in this stage handling errors can affect the quality of the products. Appearance and packaging can also cause issues, as the food must match the manufacturer's standards in order for them to be sold. Therefore, if for example, a production machine puts a wrong label on a product, or if a warehouse employee knocks over a pallet and the packaging gets damaged, those products will no longer be acceptable for sale.

Distribution and retail - The final part comes when food is transported to the supermarkets and shops and sold from there to consumers. Here waste happens because food has a limited shelf life. The lifespan is dictated by the date labelling on the products, which can be inconsistent and confusing.

An additional issue is that consumers expect to be able to find fresh food such as pastries, fruit and vegetables on the shelves at all times of the day. To keep up with this demand, older products that haven’t been sold tend to be discarded and replaced with newer versions.

In this chain, waste can also happen if stores misjudge the stock they need. This can happen for many reasons, but as an example; a supermarket expects to sell a lot of ice cream in the summer, but if bad weather leads to less ice cream being sold, then the surplus goes to waste.

If food makes it through all the other parts of the food supply chain, it ends up in a home, which is also where we see the biggest economical impact of food waste. This is because the further down the food supply chain a product reaches before it’s thrown out, the more resources have gone into the product and therefore the more it ‘costs’.

Waste at home can occur because of:

  • A lack of planning before shopping (which can lead to over-buying)
  • ‘Ugly’ produce is often left over
  • Confusion over expiry dates and food labels
  • Incorrect storage can lead to a shorter life for products
  • Parts of products not being used
  • Not making use of the freezer

More about the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030 (UN SDG).

In 2015, the UN issued the 17 goals for sustainable development. The world goals formulate a plan for sustainable development for both humans and our planet by 2030.

The 17 goals are ambitious, and they contain 169 sub-goals, which obliges UN member nations to work with sustainability to balance nature, social behaviour and economic growth.

The SDG applies to all UN’s 193 members, including your country. Therefore, we also have a part of the responsibility for achieving the goals by 2030.

Under Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production, a desire to halve global food waste is formulated. It builds on both consumer and retail levels by 2030:

12.3 By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.

Everyone in your country are responsible for meeting the goals, this include educational institutions, private and public companies, the government, as well as private persons.

Fighting food waste together