The sheer quantity of edible, nourishing food that gets thrown away every year is stunning. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as much as a third of all the food produced for human consumption — about 1.3 billion metric tons (almost 3 trillion pounds) gets wasted annually. That includes nearly half of all the fruit and vegetables grown.
“If food loss and waste were a country,” writes Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme in the U.N.’s Food Waste Index Report 2021, “it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Food waste also burdens waste management systems, she points out, and of course contributes to food insecurity. It is thus, she says, “a major contributor to the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.”
This is particularly tragic when you consider that more than 820 million people around the world — just over 11% of the global population — suffer from hunger, according to FAO. (These 10 nations have the worst hunger problems in the world.)
People waste food differently in different parts of the world. In developing countries, where chronic hunger is often the most severe, inefficient production techniques and lack of proper storage and distribution systems may be the major problems. War and political strife are contributing factors, as well.
In more affluent nations, consumer behavior is often to blame. People simply buy too much food and end up throwing a lot of it away. Europe and North America are the biggest culprits in this regard, wasting far more food than other parts of the world — as much as 95 kilograms (209 pounds) per capita each year or more in some cases. (To avoid contributing to the waste, don’t stock up on these 20 fast-spoiling foods during the pandemic.)
Global food waste data availability is currently low, and measurement approaches have been highly variable. Using the statistics available from the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 Food Waste Index Report, 24/7 Tempo has reviewed estimated household waste statistics for 50 countries. Only the waste estimates for these 50 countries are considered compatible with the Food Waste Index. These include 14 countries with “high-confidence” waste estimates in the U.N.’s survey and 36 countries with “medium-confidence” estimates.