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With 783 million people going hungry, a fifth of all food goes to waste UNEP report finds

With 783 million people going hungry, a fifth of all food goes to waste UNEP report finds
One-fifth of all food available to consumers eventually goes to waste, a new UNEP report reveals (photo courtesy Sumy Sadurni/FAO).

While a third of humanity faces food insecurity, an equivalent of one billion meals go to waste every day, a new Food Waste Index report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) finds.

The United Nations (UN) Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Food Waste Index Report 2024 highlights that the latest data from 2022 shows 1.05 billion tonnes of food went to waste.

Some 19 percent of the food available to consumers was lost overall at retail, food service, and household levels.

That is in addition to around 13 percent of food lost in the supply chain, as estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), from post-harvest up to the point of sale.

‘Global tragedy’

According to the report, most of the world’s food waste comes from households, totaling 631 million tonnes – or up to 60 percent – of the total food squandered.

The food service and retail sectors were responsible for 290 and 131 million tonnes respectively.

On average, each person wastes 79 kgs of food annually. This is the equivalent of 1.3 meals every day for everyone in the world impacted by hunger, the report authors underscore.

Food waste is a global tragedy. Millions will go hungry today as food is wasted across the world, said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, explaining that this ongoing issue not only impacts the global economy but also exacerbates climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Not just a ‘rich country’ problem

The problem is not confined to affluent nations. Following a near doubling of data coverage since the 2021 Food Waste Index Report was published, there has been increased convergence between rich and poor.

High-income, upper-middle-income, and lower-middle-income countries differ in average levels of household food waste by just seven kgs per capita per year.

The bigger divide comes in the variations between urban and rural populations.

In middle-income countries, for example, rural areas are generally wasting less. One possible explanation is found in the recycling of food scraps for pets, animal feed, and home composting in the countryside.

The report recommends focusing efforts on strengthening food waste reduction and composting in cities.

Waste and climate change

There is a direct correlation between average temperatures and food waste levels, the report finds.

Hotter countries appear to have more food waste per capita in households, potentially due to increased consumption of fresh foods containing fewer edible parts and a lack of robust refrigeration and preservation solutions.

Higher seasonal temperatures, extreme heat events, and droughts make it more challenging to store, process, transport, and sell food safely, often leading to a significant volume of food being wasted or lost.

Since food loss and waste generate up to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – almost five times the total emissions compared to the aviation sector – reducing emissions from food waste is essential, UNEP experts believe.

Food for hope

There is room for optimism, the report suggests: public-private partnerships to reduce food waste and impacts on climate and water stress are being embraced by a steadily growing number of governments of all levels.

Examples include Japan and the UK with reductions of 18 percent and 31 percent respectively, showing that change at scale is possible, if food is rationed properly.

Published ahead of the International Day of Zero Waste on March 30, 2024, the UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2024, has been co-authored with WRAP, a UK climate action NGO.

It provides the most accurate global estimate of food waste at retail and consumer levels, offering countries guidance on improving data collection and best practices, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 of halving food waste by 2030.

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