Food Waste Facts & Statistics

Food waste may occur at any stage of the food supply chain, such as processing, retail, and consumption. It is, now more than ever, evident that food waste has become a global issue. Beyond the food product, we also waste resources such as fuel and water through the entire supply chain process. This wastage is a leading cause of severe depletion of resources and food insecurity. Eventually, if enough we don’t turn thing around, food scarcity will set in, causing malnutrition or millions of deaths, especially in developing nations. We’ve gathered some food waste facts to highlight how they affect food production, the economy, people, and the planet. We’ll also address the global efforts in place to reduce food waste with practical solutions.

33 Food Waste Facts

Food Waste Statistics
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General food waste facts

#1- Developing countries suffer more food losses during agricultural production, while in the middle- and high-income regions, food waste at the retail and consumer level is higher1

Sub-Saharan Africa wastes as much as 230 million tonnes of food yearly. Nearly 25 per cent of people in developing nations are battling with food crises and malnourishment because of food waste. Recent data says South Africa records a massive loss of 10 million tonnes of food. When reducing wastage of food, we, in turn, improve food availability and reduce stresses on natural resources. 

#2- The direct economic consequences of food waste (excluding fish and seafood) run to the tune of $750 billion annually1

Food wasting does significant harm. Working out a solution starts with efforts to reduce food waste in households. It’s better to store leftovers and implement policies that encourage food preservation. 

#3- The annual value of food wasted globally is $1 trillion, and it weighs about 1.3 billion tonnesref

#4- An area larger than China is used to grow food that is never eaten1

#5- In Europe alone, 29 million tonnes of dairy products are lost or wasted every year2

We waste food because it’s in excess, but this isn’t right and will only put more pressure on the natural sources we get food from, including the animals. FAO recorded that 29 million tonnes of milk were lost every year. Cows consume plenty of water, and if we continue doing this, dairy products and water may become scarce.

We Waste All Sorts of Food

#6- Almost half of all the fruits and vegetables produced are wasted2

#7- Of the 263 million tonnes of meat produced globally, over 20% is lost or wasted2

The loss of tons of food can lead to food insecurity, which occurs when people face serious challenges and have limited access to nutritious food. Global food production will increase to 60 per cent, enough to feed around 9 billion people by 2050. However, pulling that off won’t be easy if we keep wasting so much food and natural resources.

The good thing is that we can stop this. How? By growing awareness and sharing relevant facts about how to reduce food waste with the people around us. We need to create educational programs that target those who are ignorant about food waste and encourage smart eating.

#8- Every year, 22% of the global production of oilseeds and pulses is lost or wasted2

#9- The United States is the global leader in food waste, with Americans discarding nearly 40 million tons of food every yearref

Economics of Food Waste

Much of the food we throw away often end up under the ground and in combustion sites. Discarding excess food pollutes the environment. On the other hand, keeping food waste in check will save money you’d otherwise use to prepare another meal or buy fresh food produce.

As consumers, we must learn to cut down the amount of food we buy to reduce food waste. You have more to eat than you think. Consider storing your leftovers in your refrigerator and choose a day to finish them instead of discarding them. There are another nine tips for people looking to reduce food waste over here

#10- Businesses stand to generate $1.9 billion of profit each year by adopting strategies like food waste tracking and analytics to measure and prevent food waste, right-sizing portions, and improving inventory and cold chain management3

#11- Albeit $11.4 billion worth of recyclable packaging is wasted every year; statistics show that the environmental impact is less severe than the impact of wasted food5

Effects of food waste on the environment

Fishing Trawler
Photo by Arthur Goldstein on Unsplash

#12- 8 per cent of fish caught globally are thrown back into the sea. In most cases, they are dead, dying, or severely damaged2

Trawlers throw fish back into the sea because they don’t have the license to harvest that particular species of fish, or they must not exceed the harvest target set by the regulating bodies. Ironically, these same rules set to prevent overfishing and improve sustainability keep promoting excessive wastage. Most fishes will be released back into the sea, dead or severely damaged due to fishing gears and techniques. 

This act increases water pollution and also threatens ocean biodiversity. We can curb it by tightening fishing regulations and improving the selectivity of fishing methods.

#13- Uneaten food equates to Americans throwing out as much as $218 billion each year, most of which ends up rotting in landfills, where it emits harmful greenhouse gases4

Between 2011 and 2012, some experts discovered that the US lost 15.4 billion dollars of retail food annually. Fruit losses were around 12.3%-that’s enough to feed 5.3 million people. They also found that US households were the most significant food wasters. About 76 billion pounds of household foods ended up in the trash can. This cost 450 dollars per person annually.

The plans of the federal government to cut down wasted food by 50 per cent by 2030 is in full gear. For instance, states like Connecticut, Vermont, and California have put laws in place to tackle wasting food. In Vermont, food donations climbed to 40 per cent from 2015-2016, an improvement of a 30 per cent increase the previous year.

Climate Impacts

#14- South Africans dispose of about 90% of waste to landfills, where the food-waste component leads to the production of methane gas and carbon dioxide6

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, having 28–36 times more impact on the environment than carbon dioxide.

#15- Estimates suggest that by 2050, emissions from food loss and waste could reach between 5.7 and 7.9 Gt CO2 per year, an increase from 2011 to 2.5 times at the lower bound and 3.5 times at the upper bound7

#16- We use 25 per cent of the world’s freshwater supply to grow food that is never eaten8

#17- Producing food that we don’t consume requires roughly 20 per cent of America’s cropland, fertilizers, and agricultural water—and generates greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 37 million passenger vehicles each year9

#18- In terms of GHG emissions associated with food loss and waste, the biggest contribution is from cereals and pulses (over 60 per cent), followed by roots, tubers, and oil-bearing crops10

Food waste post-harvest

#19- 14 per cent of food produced is lost from the post-harvest stage up to, but excluding, the retail stage10

Fruits and vegetables usually suffer massive hits from food waste when compared to cereals and pulses on farms. Harvesting, poor handling, and inadequate storage also contribute to on-farm storage losses. This food waste fact is appalling, and it’s imperative to identify critical loss points to resolve the issues of on-farm losses. More so, countries suffering from the middle to heavy food losses should be proactive about stepping up efforts to tackle the problems.

#20- 44 per cent of fruit and vegetables end up as waste in South Africa, and most of it happens before it reaches the supermarket shelves11

Yearly, South Africa loses one-third of the 31 million tonnes of food produced locally. As shown in this food waste fact, fruit and vegetable wastage contribute a significant portion to the loss, especially at the retail level. Supermarket chains, restaurants, and the busy lifestyle of most South Africans play a considerable role in this trend. France is fixing this problem by giving leftovers to charities, but this move remains illegal in South Africa. 

Nevertheless, the South African government needs to review its current legislation to record any success. 

#21- An estimated average of 27 per cent of fish is lost or wasted between landing and consumption12

Food waste in the household/by consumers

Vegetables in the store
Photo by Ashley Winkler on Unsplash

#22- In industrialized countries, consumers throw away 286 million tonnes of cereal products2

Around 88 million tonnes of food is wasted in the EU every year. That’s 173 kilograms per person and a staggering 170 million tonnes of CO2 gas from food pollution! According to FAO, 55 million people in the EU didn’t have access to good meals in 2014 because of food loss. Food waste is already a global problem, and it’s important to make swift changes to stop this menace. 

For instance, refrigerate food instead of stuffing the excess into bin bags. Besides, create a shopping list to avoid impulsive buying and use leftovers.

#23- An average of 68 per cent of all food discarded (as tracked in kitchen diaries) was potentially edible4

A lot of the food we throw away is edible. Meanwhile, approximately 4-10 per cent of food from kitchens in restaurants ends up as pre-consumer waste. For instance, McDonald’s says its employees must dump all fries in the trash can after 7 minutes, while they must discard burgers after 20 mins. These actions, and similar elsewhere, increase the amount of wasted food. Additionally, we can trace post-consumer waste to excessive portion size. 

However, in 2015, Chef Dan Barber proved that most of the food restaurants tagged as unfit for use are safe for consumption in his pop up Manhattan Blue Hills restaurant, wastED. As a result, he attracted a lot of admirers, including Elllary’s Greens, a New York restaurant, who now serve salmon burgers made from trimmings of their salmon fillet entrée in New York.

More Statistics

#24- In 2016, Danish households generated 80 ± 6 kg/year of unavoidable food waste and 103 ± 9 kg/year avoidable food waste13

#25- Home composting can potentially divert up to 150 kg of food waste per household per year from local collection authorities1

#26- In North America & Oceania alone, 5 814 000 tonnes of roots and tubers are wasted at the consumption stage alone2

#27- By 2016, in the European Union, food waste from the consumer level represented 46% of the total14

#28- Every year, every person wastes an average of 173 kg of food14

#29- One week of avoidable household food waste represents 5,000 litres of water. Consider that the average five-minute shower uses 35 litres of water. Wasted avoidable food items represented close to 143 showers per weekref

#30- One week of avoidable household food waste represented 3,366 calories. The equivalent of the recommended daily caloric intake for 1.7 children or 2.2 adults. That is equivalent to five adult meals, or seven child meals wasted per weekref

#31- One week of avoidable household food waste represented 23.3 kilograms of Carbon dioxide. Equating to 1.2 tons of carbon dioxide per year — one-quarter of the emissions from a car driven for a year or 2.8 barrels of oil consumedref

#32- The average amount of food wasted by households (including inedible parts) was 3.5 pounds per person per week, approximately 68 per cent of which was potentially edible4

#33- According to research conducted by NRDC, the general trend is that smaller households waste more food per capita4

Main Photo by Ella Olsson from Pexels

Further Inspiration:

Sources & References:

7 Porter, S. D., Reay, D. S., Higgins, P., & Bomberg, E. (2016). A half-century of production-phase greenhouse gas emissions from food loss & waste in the global food supply chain: Science of The Total Environment, 571, 721-729. doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.07.041
8 Hall, K. D., Guo, J., Dore, M., & Chow, C. C. (2009). The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact. PLoS ONE, 4(11). doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0007940
13 Edjabou, M. E., Petersen, C., Scheutz, C., & Astrup, T. F. (2016). Food waste from Danish households: Generation and composition. Waste Management, 52, 256-268. doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2016.03.032
14 Stenmarck, ├ůsa & Jensen, Carl & Quested, Tom & Moates, Graham. (2016). Estimates of European food waste levels. 10.13140/RG.2.1.4658.4721.
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