Cost of food that goes to waste $750 billion annually
The FAO says the waste not only causes huge economic losses but is also doing very significant damage to water, land and biodiversity. Its report "Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources" is the first study to analyse the impacts of global food waste from an environmental perspective.
"Without accounting for greenhouse gas emissions from land use change, the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated at 3.3 Gigatonnes [billion tonnes] of CO2 equivalent: as such, food wastage ranks as the third top emitter after the USA and China.
"Globally, the blue water footprint (i.e., the consumption of surface and groundwater resources) of food wastage is about 250 cubic kilometres, which is equivalent to the annual water discharge of the Volga river [in Russia], or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. Finally, produced but uneaten food vainly occupies almost 1.4 billion hectares of land; this represents close to 30% of the world's agricultural land area," the report states.
"We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day," said the FAO's director-general, Jose Graziano da Silva.
The study says 54% of global food wastage occurs during production, post-harvest handling and storage, and 46% at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.
Meat production has a substantial impact on the environment in terms of land occupation and carbon footprint, especially in high-income countries and in Latin America, which together account for 80% of all meat wastage. Apart from Latin America, it is high-income regions which are responsible for about 67% of all wasted meat.
Fruit wastage contributes significantly to water waste in Asia, Latin America, and Europe, and large volumes of vegetable wastage in industrialised parts of Asia and Europe mean a large carbon footprint for the sector.
Wastage of cereals is a significant problem in Asia, affecting carbon emissions as well as water and land use. Rice is a particular problem: paddy fields account for around 20% of human-related emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and a significant amount of rice is wasted. ■