More than 820 million people around the world — just over 11% of the global population — suffer from hunger, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
At the same time, ironically — and tragically — about a third of all the food produced around the world gets lost or wasted. That adds up to about 1.3 billion metric tons of potential nourishment that doesn’t get consumed each year, including the equivalent of a billion sacks of potatoes, 3.7 trillion apples, 574 billion eggs, and 763 boxes of pasta, among other foods.
According to the FAO summary, Key Facts on Food Loss and Waste You Should Know, “Food loss and waste […] amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.”
Different parts of the world waste food in different ways. In developing countries, the problem tends to be early in the process, through inefficient farming techniques and lack of proper storage and distribution facilities. In medium- and high-income nations, the problem tends to arise in the later stages of the supply chain as consumer behavior is more likely to be to blame. There aren’t enough mechanisms in place to minimize waste — people simply buy too much food and end up not using it. These are the world’s biggest producers of waste.
Europe and North America are the biggest culprits, wasting far more food than other parts of the world — 95 kilograms (209 pounds) per capita each year or more in some cases — while consumers in South and Southeastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa throw away only 6 to 11 kilograms (13 to 24 pounds) annually.
In the United States, people end up throwing away an exorbitant amount of the food they buy. Food accounts for 21% of the solid waste in American landfills alone.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that reducing food waste in America by 20% over the next decade would generate a net economic value of $10 billion for companies and consumers alike, reduce water demand by 1.6 trillion gallons, create 15,000 new jobs, and keep 9.5 million tons of waste out of landfills. Presumably other countries could see similar results.
Some 23 U.S. companies, including Walmart, PepsiCo, the Campbell Soup Company, and Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC), have committed to cutting food loss and waste in their domestic operations by 50% between now and 2030.
Walmart, which is by far the country’s largest grocery store, was the only major chain that received a “B” grade last year, when the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity ranked the country’s largest grocery companies on their success in reducing food waste. Three other grocery chains got a “C,” five (including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) got a “D,” and ALDI U.S. got an “F.”
To identify the countries that waste the most food, 24/7 Tempo reviewed food waste in kilograms per capita per year in the 67 countries considered by the Food Sustainability Index 2018, developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Data on food loss as a percent of total food production, emissions, water footprint, and general environmental health also came from the EIU index. Total population and GDP figures came from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators database.