Food waste – unbelievably wasteful

According to a recent FAO report the current level of global food wastage is responsible for emissions of CO2 only surpassed in magnitude by those of the US and China.

This usage of land and water – essentially for nothing – has a high opportunity cost on a planet with scarce resources. With the earth’s population reaching 9 billion in 2050, arable land in hectare per person rapidly decreasing, food wastage an unnecessary cost to the environment and people, and it has an impact on all three aspects of sustainability (people, planet and profit).

By now, you might be wondering why I am using the word “wastage”. Wastage is referred to in the report as the total amount of food wasted, and further splits food wastage into two categories – food loss and food waste.

Food loss: A decrease in food matter or quality, to the extent when it can no longer be consumed. Most frequently food loss occurs because of inefficient food supply chains. Examples range from natural disasters to inadequate infrastructure and limited access to markets, as well as insufficient or primitive technologies.

Food waste: Wastage of food suitable for consumption. Examples are oversupply, expiry dates and spoilt food. It therefore includes but is not limited to eating habits and overstocking by supermarkets.

In general, food loss mainly occurs in developing countries due to inefficiencies in production. Food waste mainly occurs in developed countries, due to consumer preferences and oversupply.

Here are some facts from the report – I highly recommend reading the full report:

  1. Food wastage occupies 28% of global agricultural landmass. The only country with a landmass larger than “food waste” is Russia.
  2. Crops are responsible for 72% and 44% of species threats in developing and developed countries respectively .
  3. The monetary value on food wasted was estimated to be 750 billion USD in 2007 – the same as the GDP of Turkey or Switzerland.
  4. Meat makes up 11% of total food wastage – but 78% of food wastage land occupation.
  5. High-income regions and Latin America account for 80% of meat waste


So, what can we do about it all?

Food loss seems to be remedied relatively easily, by upgrading processes in developing countries (if it can be done in a way that is both sustainable and feasible). Infrastructure and vulnerability to natural disasters are circumstances which are hard to remedy, but it is nevertheless in everyone’s best interest.

Food waste on the other hand requires an attitude shift in the minds of consumers. Start respecting food. Stop overloading your plate at a buffet. Stop following “best before” dates like they were holy. Encourage composting. Think about where things come from before buying them. Think before you throw away, and encourage others to do the same!

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