Food waste – a global problem with global consequences

According to the the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), approximately one third of all food produced worldwide is lost or goes to waste. This amount corresponds to 1.3 billion tons per year.

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”.

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.

Most of the waste comes from households and in 2019 17% of all food available at the consumer level was wasted. This is equivalent to 931 million tonnes of food sold to households, retailers, restaurants, and other food service actors. 

However, there are different patterns of food waste across countries. In developing countries about 40% 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 (source). 

Did you know?

  • All the food that gets lost or wasted is enough to feed 2 billion people
  • 121 kilograms of food are wasted per capita each year according to UNEP food waste index report 2021
  • Food waste emits about 3 times as much greenhouse gas as aviation (Our World in Data)

Environmental and economic costs

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

The environmental impact of food waste is big and food produced, but not eaten, is estimated to be the third biggest carbon emitter after the United States of America and China. Food wastage's carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG released into the atmosphere per year (Source: FAO).

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

Furthermore, food waste has an substantial economic cost of USD 1 trillion each year according to the UN World Food Programme (source). 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 Europe.

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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 pre-harvest to consumption.

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Food waste in the future

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

Organizations such as the UN and the EU aim to significally reduce food waste in 2030. Click here for more information about EU actions against food waste.

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

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


Latest news

Strategic Workshops

Strategic Workshops

In the ongoing crusade against food waste, innovative strategies are emerging to confront the challenge head-on. Recently, stakeholders from diverse sectors converged in workshops organized by the ZeroW project to discuss and refine strategies for scaling