Food waste is a significant global issue. Over 30% of food is lost or wasted annually, a staggering 1.3 billion tons.
Food waste occurs at every stage of the food “life cycle,” from agricultural production to consumption and disposal. This means all stages of the food supply chain, from farms to households. Weather, pests, disease, low market prices, or high labour costs can lead to food being left in the field.
These three phases alone represent approximately 75% of all food waste. The final step accounts for the last 25% of food waste.
Food waste is a significant economic issue. Experts estimate that the financial consequences, excluding fish and seafood, amount to £770 billion globally. And in the UK, the annual cost is estimated to reach as high as £19 billion. This figure includes household waste, hospitality and food service, manufacturing, retail, and wholesale sectors.
Here is the breakdown of global statistics as of 2023:
The global volume of food wastage is estimated at a mind-boggling 1.6 billion tonnes of “primary product equivalents.” This immense quantity has severe environmental consequences. Carbon emissions are responsible for up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere. To put this into perspective, this accounts for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In a world of seven billion people, set to grow to nine billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense – economically, environmentally and ethically, aside from the cost implications, all the land, water, fertilisers and labour needed to grow that food is wasted – not to mention the generation of greenhouse gas emissions produced by food decomposing on landfill and the transport of food that is ultimately thrown away.Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director
Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as sub-Saharan Africa’s entire net food production each year. In developing countries, 40% of losses occur at postharvest and processing levels, while more than 40% at retail and consumer levels in industrialised countries.
These facts show that they significantly contribute to global hunger and insecurity. Reducing this can save resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and feed more people. This reduction can be achieved through various methods, such as improving supply chain management, reducing portion sizes, and educating consumers.
|Types of Food Waste
|Estimated Annual Total
|Supermarkets, Grocery Stores, Convenience Stores
|Unsold produce, expired products, damaged goods, overstocked items
|118 million tons
|Restaurants, Cafes, Fast Food Chains
|Plate waste, uneaten prepared food, kitchen trimmings, overproduction, spoilage, expiration
|224 million tons
|Single-family households, Multi-family households, Dormitories
|Plate waste, spoiled food, expired products, over-purchasing
|570 million tons
The food waste is produced by various sectors, including households (43%), grocery stores, restaurants, and food service companies (40%), farms (16%) and manufacturers (2%). It is estimated that 1.6 billion tonnes of “primary product equivalents” are wasted annually, which equates to 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food.
This wastage has a significant environmental impact, with the carbon footprint estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent to greenhouse gases (GHG) released into the atmosphere annually.
By dividing the waste by food type, suppliers, retailers, and consumers waste approximately 45% of all fruits and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, and 20% of meat and dairy products annually.
Households are the most significant contributors, producing 570 million metric tons. This figure is supported by a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, which estimated household food waste at 569 million tonnes.
The average global household wastes 74kg of food each year per capita. However, this figure varies by country. For example, Australian households generate 102kg annually, while Russian households produce 33 kilograms per capita.
Food waste in restaurants is a significant global issue with substantial economic, human, and environmental implications. According to the Green Restaurant Association, a restaurant can produce up to 25,000-75,000 pounds annually.
It’s estimated that 17% of a diner’s meal is left uneaten, and 55% of restaurant leftovers are edible. This is equivalent to over £133 billion in food waste. Restaurants waste 4% to 10% of the food they buy, and 30% to 40% of the food they serve customers is never eaten. This results in a substantial loss for the restaurant industry.
Global agriculture or farming is a significant issue contributing to food loss and environmental impacts. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Tesco’s report, an estimated 2.5 billion tonnes of food goes uneaten worldwide, with 1.2 billion tonnes of farm-stage wasted yearly.
This is higher than previously thought, pushing the share of wasted food to about 40%. Farm-stage food waste is 2.2 gigatonnes of CO2eq annually, 4% of global anthropogenic emissions.
In addition, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that 1.3 gigatons of edible food is wasted yearly, with 1.2 billion tonnes, or 15% of food produced, wasted before it makes it off the farm. This shows that an estimated 2.5 billion tonnes of food go uneaten worldwide each year, with 40% of all food produced but never eaten being sufficient to feed two billion people.
The farming stage is worth paying more attention to, as farms were somewhat overlooked because they were a lower-income country problem, mainly due to poorer harvest and storage technology. However, waste at the farm stage can be driven by the socio-economic and market factors that shape the agricultural system.
The manufacturing sector plays a significant role in global food waste, with a substantial amount of food being lost during the production and manufacturing stages. It is estimated that 30-40% of food production is lost before it reaches the market. This suggests that a significant portion of food waste occurs during the production and manufacturing stages.
Food loss results from inefficiencies, and hidden costs are often equal to or greater than retailers’ net profit—even the best-performing ones.
Various food manufacturers have taken steps towards tackling this issue. For instance, IKEA has become the first global company to halve food waste by leveraging WRI partnerships and research, cutting this by 54% across its 400 in-store restaurants. Similarly, General Mills, a leading food company, generated 1.71 thousand tonnes in 2021, a decrease of 23.7% over 2020.
The research suggests that food manufacturers and retailers are uniquely positioned to lead global efforts to reduce food loss because they are at the centre of the food value chain. Working with each other and all value chain participants, they can cut food loss by 50 to 70 per cent.
These estimates are from the US Environmental Protection Agency and are for 2019. The global volume of food wastage is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes of “primary product equivalents,” total food wastage for the edible part of this amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes. The amount of food lost or wasted costs 1.9 trillion BRP annually and is more than enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world – four times over.
It is important to note that these estimates exclude the small share of excess food that food banks cannot distribute and are routed to other management pathways.
In 2024, composting as a management pathway is estimated to effectively manage only about 5% of the total wasted food. However, the potential impact of composting is significant, as it reduces the volume of food waste sent to landfills and contributes to soil health, plant growth, and ecosystem resilience while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The chart is divided into several sections, each representing a different management pathway for food waste. The most significant slice, representing nearly 60%, is “Landfill,” indicating that a substantial portion of food waste remains in landfills.
Key statistics related to food waste management and food insecurity as of 2023
|Global food waste
|1.3 billion tons per year
|Global food waste carbon footprint
|3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG released into the atmosphere per year
|The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted
|The total value at the global level
|Percentage managed by donation
|Percentage managed by animal feed
|Percentage managed by composting
|Percentage managed by landfill
|Percentage managed by sewer/wastewater treatment
|Global Market Management in 2022
|Estimated global market for management in 2027
This table shows a significant global issue with environmental, economic, and social impacts. It also highlights the importance of management in reducing the adverse effects. The estimated global market management is expected to grow. The projections are based on the estimated compound annual growth rate of the worldwide management market in the coming years, indicating an increasing demand for solutions to address this issue.
Here is a table summarising the projected growth of the global management market:
|Market Value (USD Billion)
|Market Value (GBP Billion)
The global food waste management market was valued at BRP 57.2 billion in 2022 and is expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.4% from 2023 to 2030. The estimated value of food waste in the UK is around £14 billion per year. The EU member states have pledged to halve per capita global at consumer and retail levels by 2030 while investing in proper disposal to obtain beneficial goods like fertilisers and biogas.
The United States has set a goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. This can address climate change, increase food security, productivity, and economic efficiency, and save money for families and businesses.
Regarding the gross volume of food waste, the most populous countries unsurprisingly top the list.
If ‘Food Waste’ were a country, it would be the world’s 3rd largest emitter of CO2 after China and the USThe Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
While the total volume is essential, it’s also crucial to consider food waste per capita, which provides a more accurate picture of waste levels relative to a country’s population.
These statistics underscore the urgent need for strategies with significant economic, environmental, and social benefits. For instance, ReFED estimates that an annual investment of £11 billion over the next ten years can reduce by more than 50% each year, resulting in £60 billion in annual net financial benefit.
While some countries like France have made strides in curbing food waste, earning the top spot in the Food Sustainability Index, there is still a long way to go.
One example of a successful food waste reduction initiative is the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign in the UK. The campaign aims to raise awareness about food waste’s environmental and economic impacts and provide practical tips at home. The campaign has reduced household waste by 21% since its launch in 2007.
Another example is the “Zero Hunger” initiative by the United Nations, which aims to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. The initiative recognises the importance of reducing food waste and promoting sustainable food systems to achieve this goal. The initiative calls for action from governments, businesses, and individuals to facilitate and improve food security.
Efforts to reduce food waste must be multifaceted, addressing the volume, behaviours, and systems contributing to it. This includes improving food storage and transportation, promoting sustainable consumption patterns, and implementing effective waste management strategies.
In conclusion, while the challenge is significant, so too is the potential for improvement. We can make strides towards a more sustainable and equitable global food system by addressing food waste.
Approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted each year.
Food waste has far-reaching effects, both nationally and globally. It occurs along the entire production spectrum, from the farm to distribution to retailers and consumers. Wasted food produces methane, a strong greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. It is also the most significant component of municipal solid waste at 21%.
There are many ways to reduce food waste, including:
Measurement of food waste is essential to provide evidence on which to build effective strategies for food waste prevention.
As foreseen in the EU waste legislation, as revised in May 2018, specific measures on food waste prevention have been introduced to provide consistent data on food waste levels. Based on the data collected in 2020, the Commission has defined a baseline for EU food waste levels against which it has proposed to set legally binding targets for food waste reduction to be achieved by Member States by 2030.
Food Waste Challenge calls on entities across the food chain to reduce food waste by improving product development, storage, shopping/ordering, marketing, labelling, and cooking methods. The goals are to reduce food waste, recover food waste by connecting potential food donors to hunger relief organisations, and recycle food waste to feed animals or to create compost, bioenergy, and natural fertilisers.
Food loss refers to food lost during production, post-harvest, or processing stages. In contrast, food waste refers to food that is fit for consumption but is consciously discarded at the retail or consumption phases.
Food waste generates £777 billion in annual economic losses. It also significantly impacts food prices, as wasted food costs are passed on to consumers. This includes losses for farmers, retailers, and consumers. Reducing food waste can save money for households and businesses and create new economic opportunities in areas such as food recovery and composting.
Food waste contributes to hunger by reducing food availability. If food that is currently wasted were instead distributed to those in need, it could help alleviate hunger.
Food waste significantly impacts water resources, as two-thirds of our water footprint comes from food production. The water used to produce food is also wasted when food is wasted.
Technology can play a significant role in reducing food waste. For example, apps and websites can help consumers plan meals, track expiration dates, and find recipes to use up ingredients before they go bad. Sensors and data analytics can help businesses optimise their supply chains and reduce waste.
Food waste significantly contributes to climate change, with an estimated 8% of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from food waste. When food waste is sent to landfills, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
Food waste significantly impacts food insecurity, with wholesome food that could help feed families in need being sent to landfills. Reducing food waste can help increase food availability for those who need it most.
Inemesit is a seasoned content writer with 9 years of experience in B2B and B2C. Her expertise in sustainability and green technologies guides readers towards eco-friendly choices, significantly contributing to the field of renewable energy and environmental sustainability.