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The global impacts of food waste

 

How much food is wasted?

The global volume of food wasted per year is estimated to be 1.3 Gtons. This can be compared to the total agricultural production (for food and non-food uses such as textile fibers, energy crops of medicinal plants), which is about 6 Gtonnes. According to Practice Greenhealth's Sustainability Benchmark Report, hospitals generate over 29 pounds of waste per staffed bed per day; about one-third of healthcare's waste is comprised of food.

Where and how does food waste mostly occur?

Waste happens at all steps of production, handling, storage, processing, distribution and consumption.  Agricultural production is responsible for the greatest amount of total food waste volumes, 33% of the total.  Waste occurring at the consumption level is much more variable, with waste in middle and high-income regions at 31–39%, but much lower in low-income regions, at 4–16%.

What is the impact of food waste on greenhouse gas emissions and climate?

Without accounting for GHG emissions from land use change, the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated to 3.3 Gtons of CO2-equivalent. For a sense of scale, when considering the total emissions by country, only the USA and China are responsible for more emissions.

What is the water footprint related to food waste?

Globally, the consumption of surface and groundwater resources of food waste (the so called blue water footprint) is about 250 km³, which is equivalent to 3.6 times consumption of the USA for the same period.  Animal products in general, have a larger water footprint per ton of product than crops. This is one of the reasons why it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than through animal products. 

What is the impact of food waste on land use?

At world level, in 2007, the total amount of food waste represented the consumption of 1.4 billion hectares of land, equal to about 30 % of the world’s agricultural land area, and larger than the surface of Canada. Low-income regions account for about two-thirds of this total. The major contributors to land occupation are meat and dairy products, with 78% of the total, whereas their contribution to total food waste is 11%.

Land degradation is also an important factor of food waste. Most of the food waste at the agricultural production stage is in regions where land degradation is already present or where the soil is already in poor shape, thus adding undue pressure on the land.

What is the impact of food waste on biodiversity?

Agricultural production, in particular food crops, is responsible for 66% of threats to species in terrestrial systems.  In the case of marine biodiversity, countries are “fishing down the food chain,” with fish catches increasingly consisting of smaller fish that are lower in the food chain, and at a higher rate than the ability of the fish stocks to renew. Any waste depletes the resources even faster.

What is the economic impact of food waste?

On a global scale, about USD 750 billion worth of food was wasted in 2007, the equivalent of the GDP of Turkey or Switzerland.  This value a low estimate since it mainly considers producer prices and not the value of the end product.

Source: Global Food Wastage – Causes and impact on natural resources, GreenFacts.org.  

 Case studies, tools & resources

 

How to reduce & recycle food waste at skilled nursing & senior living facilities: A sustainability checklist, 8/2020

Food waste makes up approximately 25% of the waste stream. Find out how to reduce the amount of food waste generated in the kitchen and dining areas that ends up in the dumpster and save money. Check out CT Department of Energy & Environmental Protection's  Sustainability Checklist for nursing homes and senior living facilities on reducing food waste.

 

United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization

The report, Food Wasteage Footprint from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization is a detailed analysis of how, where and why food is wasted worldwide and the impacts to biodiversity, climate change and water use. 

UN guide

US EPA

The US EPA has the Food Recovery Hierarchy as a guide for food waste reduction projects and, developed tools for assessing food waste and the Food Recovery Challenge.  Start your food waste reduction program today!

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