What food is wasted?
Whether it is a fruit, a tuber, or even meat, every food item that exists is wasted to a degree. It therefore becomes interesting to find out how much of each category is actually wasted in regards to the total amount of food waste. Here, fruit and vegetables make up the greatest share. When looking at how much food is actually produced and then calculate the share that is then wasted per category, one can see that almost half of all fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers are wasted along the supply chain, while one third of all fish and seafood never make it to our plate.
Across the world, we are currently wasting 1,555 million tons of food each and every year (BCG, 2018). However, the data becomes even more interesting when looking in detail at what food category is actually wasted the most, as a percentage share of the total amount of food wasted.
- Fruits and vegetables: 644 million tons thrown away (42%)
- Cereals: 347 million tons thrown away (22%)
- Roots and tubers: 275 million tons thrown away (18%)
- Dairy: 143 million tons thrown away (9%),
- Meat: 74 million tons thrown away (5%)
- Oil seeds and pulses: 50 million tons thrown away (3%)
- Fish and seafood: 22 million tons thrown away (1%)
Across the world, we are currently producing 4,678 million tons of food, but wasting one third of it each and every year (BCG, 2018). It now becomes even more interesting to find out how much food is actually produced in each category and then calculate how much of that production we actually waste (FAO & National Geographic, 2016). Here, data shows that almost half of all fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers produced are wasted along the supply chain.
- Fruits and vegetables: 1400 million tons produced (46% is wasted)
- Cereals: 1197 million tons produced (29%)
- Roots and tubers: 598 million tons produced (46%)
- Dairy: 841 million tons produced (17%),
- Meat: 352 million tons produced (21%)
- Oil seeds and pulses: 227 million tons produced (22%)
- Fish and seafood: 63 million tons produced (35%)
Now that we know how much food is produced and wasted per category, it's a good idea to dig further into the statistics and reasons why this actually happens, as well as how much of each category is actually wasted in the different regions. All graphs were produced based on data provided by BCG and FAO & National Geographic.
Fruit & Vegetables
- EU households waste over 17 billion kg of fresh fruit and vegetables a year - 35.3 kg of fresh fruit and vegetable waste per person per year, 14.2 kg of which is avoidable - On average, 29% of fresh fruit and vegetables purchased by households in the EU is wasted (De Laurentiis et al., 2018)
- Each year an estimated 50 million tons of farmed fruit and vegetables grown in Europe is discarded for being the wrong size or misshapen – that means a third of the crops harvested never reach the supermarket shelves (The University of Edinburgh, 2018)
- Up to two-fifths of all fruit and vegetable crops are wasted because they are 'ugly' (The Guardian, 2013)
Tomatoes: In Australia, almost 90% of edible tomatoes were wasted based on their appearance (The Guardian, 2017), while in the UK alone, 1.2 million whole tomatoes are thrown away each day (WRAP, 2018)
Bananas: A recent study in Sweden showed that bananas are the most wasted fruit in-store due to brown marks or minor bruises (Mattsson et al., 2018). In the UK, 1.4 million bananas are thrown away every day (The Guardian, 2017)
Apples: It is estimated that each year 3.7 trillion apples are thrown away globally (FAO, 2012)
Rice: It makes up over half of wasted cereals in Japan, China and South Korea, and 72% of lost or discarded cereals in South and Southeast Asia—a total of 149.7 million tons (FAO, 2013)
Bread: The UK wastes around 20 million slices every day (WRAP, 2018). In Germany, up to 19% of the production ends up in the bin – this means up to 1.7 million tons per year, equaling to 398.000 hectares of agricultural land – larger than the island of Mallorca – and 2,46 million tons of emissions wasted in the process (WWF, 2018). In the Netherlands, 435 thousand loaves are thrown away a day, accounting for 127 million kilos of bread per year (BroodNodig, 2019), while another study has found that 25% of consumers do not finish their bread before it goes off (Opinium Research, 2015)
Roots & Tubers
Potatoes: Half of all fresh potatoes bought by UK householders each day are thrown away - 5.8 million of them per day, and at a “staggering” annual cost of £230m (The Guardian, 2017).
Carrots: 60,214 tons of carrots are produced in Switzerland annually but about 30% of the production is lost during processing due to damages to the carrots (scratched or broken), inefficient sorting, and overly stringent quality standards (Kreft 2013). In total about 25-30% of carrots, don’t make it to the grocery store because of physical or aesthetic defects (FAO, 2019).
Yogurts: 17% of all yogurts go to waste, equalling to 1.5million tons thrown away annually. 50% of the yoghurts thrown away by consumers are in unopened packaging (Chr.Hansen, 2019).
Milk: 90% of UK milk waste occurs in households with 290,000 tons thrown away every year. This equates to more than 490 million pints of milk as a nation - or eighteen and a half pints per household (WRAP, 2018).
Households are wasting around 570,000 tons of fresh meat each year, with a value of £1,300 million, and nearly half of it could be used. That's about 50 million chickens, 1.5 million pigs and 100,000 beef cattle. Globally it's close to 12 billion animals: an extraordinary number of living creatures born just to be wasted (Oakeshott & Lymbery, 2014)
Oil seeds & pulses
Fish & seafood
- 8% of fish caught globally is thrown back into the sea (most cases they are dead, dying or badly damaged) and this equals to almost 3 billion Atlantic salmons (FAO, 2018)
- Industrial fisheries alone are responsible for dumping nearly 10 million tons of perfectly good fish back into the ocean each year—enough to fill 4,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools (Zeller et al., 2017)
As much as 2 billion pounds of fish are discarded by fisheries in the United States each year, hindering the recovery of depleted stocks and with a value of at least $1 billion annually (Oceana, 2014)
One in three fish caught around the world never makes it to the plate, either being thrown back overboard or rotting before it can be eaten (FAO, 2018)