Almost 1 billion tonnes, or a staggering 17%, of all food available at consumer levels is wasted, according to the latest report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organization WRAP.

The Food Waste Index Report 2021 gathers detailed data based on food waste that occurs in homes, restaurants and retail outlets. It highlights the need for each of us to change our habits and reduce food waste to help with issues of climate change and live more sustainably.

The report is considered one of the most comprehensive and detailed food waste reports currently available because of its breadth of detail. Covering an impressive 54 countries and collecting data on over 152 metrics. It finds that restaurants and food services discard 5% of food with retail outlets accounting for 2%. The largest contributor to food waste by far are individual households.

So, what exactly does the report tell us about household waste? It shows that households discard 11% of total available food. Per capita, this is 74kg of food – the equivalent to the weight of a beer keg. As a contributor to waste, households far exceed outlets and restaurants. The report also highlights that it is not just an issue for the few – household food waste levels remain high for all income levels, in all countries. Considering there are an estimated 7.9 billion people on planet earth, the scale of the issue is clear to see.

On a global scale, the study affirms that quantities of food wasted remain very similar when looking at lower-middle and high income countries meaning that this is not just an issue in the developed world. Food waste is a global problem.

In the current context, with the COVID-19 pandemic still overwhelming many parts of the world, the number of people globally impacted by hunger is expected to see a sharp rise in the coming months and years. In 2019, 690 million people were effected by hunger and three billion people unable to afford to eat a healthy diet – a sharp rise in these figures could have devastating consequences. 

We see from the data that food waste is a problem for all with larger scale impacts, but the good news is that this means there is something we can each do to help reduce these statistics and contribute. The need is there to act now because food waste has substantial environmental, economic and social impacts. Understanding some of these helps put the issue into context…

  • Greenhouse Gases: It’s estimated that food that does not get consumed accounts for 8-10% of global greenhouse gases which have a direct impact on climate change.
  • Nature: Less food waste would help slow the destruction of nature thanks to land conversation and pollution levels. It would also help reduce biodiversity loss.
  • Waste Management: The additional burden of food waste on waste management and irrigation systems in all countries could be considerably reduced.
  • Hunger and malnutrition: Reducing waste and diversifying the supply chain could help the 690 million people affected by hunger and 3 billion people unable to afford a healthy diet.
  • Household expenses: A reduction of food expenses for households when buying only what they consume would be of personal benefit to millions, if not billions. This is of particular importance to many at times of recession.

So, we understand the scale of the issue and also begin to see what needs to be done to reverse the trend. The publication of this report supports The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 which is a global goal aiming to halve food waste and reduce food loss by 2030.

Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP comments that “With only 9 years to go, we will not achieve SDG 12 Target 3 if we do not significantly increase investment in tackling food waste in the home globally. This must be a priority for governments, international organisations, businesses and philanthropic foundations.”

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP adds “If we want to get serious about tackling climate change […] businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste.”


SOURCE: Hamish Forbes, Tom Quested, Clementine O’Connor, UNEP