Why Global Food Waste Hurts Us All

People living in medium to high income nations experience abundance on levels never seen before in recorded history. This is evident in the sheer volume of food available on market shelves, and sadly the amount of consumable food that finds its way to the kitchen trash can. Estimated global food waste adds up to 1.3 billion tons of food per year, roughly one third of the world’s food production.

The Problem is Global

Low income nations' agricultural and processing industries discard a shocking amount of consumable food. In these nations, food is lost or wasted primarily during production and processing. Consumer waste in low-income nations is relatively low. In contrast, consumers and retailers waste almost as much food as producers and processors in wealthy nations.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 10 kg of food per person is wasted by consumers and retailers on an annual basis. Approximately 165 kg per person is lost or wasted by producers and processors annually. To put that in perspective, approximately 460 kg of food is produced for each person, every year. This means that 38% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s food never makes it to the people.
  • In North America & Oceania, consumer and retailer food waste accounts for a shocking amount per person, per year: 115 kg. Production waste accounts for another 160 kg, for a total of 275 kg per person, per year. 275 kg is enough to feed one person for over half a year. Over 30% of edible food is discarded in North America & Oceania.

Causes of Food Waste

Global food waste is driven by a complicated web of consumer habit, retail standards, overall poor food handling practices, excessively wary food dating, and lack of proper storage systems.

In low income nations, premature harvesting and lack of infrastructure for storage, processing, and delivery to market cause industrial waste. In medium and high income nations, excess supply drives industrial food waste.

High income nations also have the embarrassing problem of discarding up to 13% of edible food at retail and consumer levels. Consumer waste is driven by overly picky retailers and consumers, excessive expiration dates, and miscalculating how much food to buy. In fact, retailers plan for a certain percentage of food waste, considering it a cost of doing business.

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The Trouble with Global Food Waste

Not only does this paradox exacerbate the problem for the world’s starving, but it also contributes to global warming. For example, fossil fuels poured into tractors and trucks end up in the atmosphere. Wasted food in landfills produces methane, which contributes to climate change.

1.3 billion tons of food would feed the world’s starving. Consider that the average person can subsist on approximately 1.8 kgs (over 3 lbs.) of food per day. This means that every wasted ton of food could feed 2 people for a year, adding up to the equivalent of feeding 2.6 billion people annually.

How and Why to Stop Wasting Food

If we could convert food waste to edible food, we could literally end starving around the world. We must take action to address and fix the complex web of underlying contributors to food waste in the world. Not only would we put a stop to starving, we would make significant progress towards restoring balance in the environment.

We can all make an impact today by carefully planning menus and shopping, purchasing and using foods near expiration, and committing to no waste in our own kitchens. In addition retailers, producers, and lawmakers need to hear from us that food waste at the expense of humanity and the environment is no longer acceptable. By working together, we can end the embarrassing problem of food waste.

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