This article discusses how much usable food we throw away, as well as practical tips on how to reduce individual food waste.
Facts about global food waste
Key facts about food loss and waste according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO):
- About one-third of the world’s food is thrown away. That is about 1.3 billion tons of food a year.
- Food loss and waste cost approximately USD $ 680 billion annually in industrialized countries and USD $ 310 billion in developing countries.
- Industrialized and developing countries waste about the same amount of food – 670 and 630 million tons per year, respectively.
- The most wasted food categories are fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers.
- Consumer food waste per capita is 95-115 kg per year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia only waste 6-11 kg per year.
- At the retail level, a lot of food is lost just because it doesn’t look perfect on the outside. This applies mainly to fruits and vegetables. Fruits with small external defects are not bought as willingly as fruits with an appealing colour and shape.
- Food loss is a major cause of the wasting of resources including water, land, energy, labour and capital. In addition, overproduction of food unnecessarily leads to greenhouse gas emissions. And this is known to contribute to global warming.
- In general, agriculture accounts for one-fifth to one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. According to FAO estimates, only wasted food is responsible for 4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year. This is more than the entire annual level of CO2 emissions in India and almost as much as the greenhouse gas emissions from road transport across the planet.
- Food that is currently wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people.
- Food that is currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people.
- Food that is currently wasted in Africa could feed 300 million people.
- Even if only 25% of all wasted food was saved, that would be enough to feed 870 million starving people. At the moment of writing, 820 million people are suffering from hunger.
- To produce the food that is thrown away, about 14 million square kilometres of farmland are used each year. This is only slightly less than the total area of Russia.
- In developing countries, 40% of losses occur during post-harvest processing of food products. In industrialized countries, more than 40% of losses occur at the level of retailers and consumers. That is, in rich countries, consumers themselves throw away (often intact) food. And in poor countries, food waste is the result of imperfect farming practices, poor infrastructure, and a modest packaging industry. Thus, we can say that in rich countries prosperity is responsible for wasting food, while in poor countries food wasting is due to the lack of prosperity.
What can YOU do? Ten tips to reduce food waste
How to avoid food wasting in your household? Here are ten practical tips on how to reduce food waste:
- Don’t go food shopping while being hungry.
- Do not use a large cart in the store, take a smaller cart if available.
- Write a list of really necessary food items in advance, deviate from it as little as possible.
- Do not hesitate to buy fruits and vegetables of “imperfect” appearance. In many supermarkets those even go for a reduced price while there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.
- Before you buy food on sale at a “good price”, think about whether you will actually eat that food soon.
- Use smaller plates. On large plates, people put more food than they can eat. The same goes for trays in a cafeteria.
- If you cannot finish your meal at a restaurant, ask for the leftovers to be packed and take them home with you.
- Trust your own taste and smell in assessing expiration dates. Consumers sometimes think that out-of-date foods cannot be eaten safely, but this only applies to perishable foods, such as meat and fish. Fruit, vegetables, eggs and dairy products can often be consumed beyond their expiration date. Read more on proper food storage in this article.
- Most supermarkets put foods that have almost reached their expiration date on sale. If you happen to plan cooking something from this sale category today or tomorrow, do not hesitate to purchase it.
- This tip is for dedicated home chefs: search fore recipes that utilize all parts of vegetables and fruit, including peel, zest, stems (broccoli stems are delicious!) and tops (carrot, celery and beets tops are perfectly usable).