One-third of all the world’s food is wasted every year at enormous economic and environmental cost, finds a United Nations report released Wednesday.
The report, “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources,” is the first study to analyze the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective, looking at its consequences for the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.
The waste of 1.3 billion tons of food each year is damaging to the environment and causes economic losses of US$750 billion a year, according to the report.
The researchers found that food produced but not eaten each year guzzles up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River
The production of this uneaten food is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
This food wastage represents not only a missed opportunity to improve global food security, but also to mitigate environmental impacts and resources use from food chains, the report states.
Although there is today a wide recognition of the major environmental implications of food production, no study has yet analysed the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective.
Produced but uneaten food occupies almost 1.4 billion hectares of land; according to the report this represents 28 percent of the world’s agricultural land area.
“While it is difficult to estimate impacts on biodiversity at a global level, food wastage unduly compounds the negative externalities that monocropping and agriculture expansion into wild areas create on biodiversity loss, including mammals, birds, fish and amphibians,” the report concludes.
The report points out specific features of food waste according to regions. Cereal waste, particularly waste of rice, is a big problem in Asia, with major impacts on carbon emissions as well as water and land use.
Fruit wastage contributes to water waste in Asia, Latin America, and Europe, while large volumes of vegetable wastage in industrialized Asia, Europe, and South and South East Asia translates into a large carbon footprint for that sector.
Excluding Latin America, high-income regions are responsible for about 67 percent of all meat waste.
As a companion to its report, the Food and Agriculture Organization has also published a comprehensive tool-kit with recommendations on how food loss and waste can be reduced at every stage of the food chain. The tool-kit gives examples of projects around the world that show how national and local governments, farmers, businesses, and individual consumers can take steps to tackle the problem.
Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Achim Steiner said, “Today’s excellent report by FAO underlines the multiple benefits that can be realized – in many cases through simple and thoughtful measures by for example households, retailers, restaurants, schools and businesses – that can contribute to environmental sustainability, economic improvements, food security and the realization of the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge.”