Food waste – a global problem with global consequences

According to the UN, approximately one-third of all produced food worldwide is lost or goes to waste. This amount corresponds to 1.3 billion tons per year (fao.org).

The extent of the problem has created global awareness and interest in food waste and the UN focus on the issue in their Sustainable Development Goals:
“Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. Target 12.3 “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” (un.org)

Wide range of actors along the entire supply chain

Food waste and losses are occurring along the entire supply chain – from agricultural production to the consumer. 

This also means that the issue of food waste is important for a wide range of actors – farmers, consumers, companies, governments, and in fact the whole world.

However, most of the waste comes from households and in 2019, 17 percent of all food available at the consumer level was wasted. This is equivalent to 931 million tonnes of all food sold to households, retailers, restaurants, and other food services). 

However, there are different patterns of food waste across countries. In developing countries, about 40 percent of food loss happens at post-harvest and processing levels, while in industrialized countries, more than 40% of the food losses happen at retail and consumer levels (fao.org). 

Did you know?

  • All the food that gets lost or wasted is enough to bread 2 billion people
  • 121 kilograms of food are wasted per capita each year (unep.org).
  • Food waste emits about 3 times as many greenhouse gases as aviation

Environmental and economic costs

Unfortunately, when food is produced and not consumed, it leads to an extensive amount of resources produced in vain. This inevitably comes with both an environmental and economic cost. 

The environmental impact of food waste is large-scale, and food produced and not eaten is estimated to be the third biggest emitter after USA and China due to the estimated 3.3-billion-ton CO2 emission every year (fao.org). 

This makes 8-10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste (unep.org). In comparison, aviation accounts for about three percent of the global CO2 emission (ourworldindata.org). 

Furthermore, food waste has an enormous and substantial economic cost of USD 1 trillion each year (fao.org). However, the impact goes beyond economic and environmental costs. The social consequences are extensive and are affecting people’s health and livelihood by exposing people to pesticides, water scarcity, and soil erosion. 


Looking for more

Find more food waste initiatives across all of Europe.

About 20 % of the food produced in the EU goes to waste.

ZeroW directly addresses the challenge of food loss and waste (FLW) by developing and testing a synergetic mix of innovations in real life conditions.

The aim is to deliver ambitious reductions at all stages of the food supply chain from post-harvest to consumption.

Food waste in the future

Even though food waste is extensive and has huge environmental and economic consequences awareness and action can contribute to solutions.

Organizations such as the UN and European Parliament aim to substantially reduce food waste in 2030 (ec.europa.eu).

However, the problems surrounding food waste become even more urgent in light of the world's growing population, and therefore a bigger demand for food.

Therefore, solutions and innovation are essential to a sustainable future. 


Latest news