New Data Suggests Food Waste an ‘Underexploited’ Policy Area

March 5, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
In this Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017 file photo, an elderly woman searches for a food in a garbage container in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine. A United Nations report released on Thursday, March 4, 2021 estimates 17% of the food produced globally each year is wasted. That amounts to 931 million tons of food, or about double what researchers believed was being wasted a decade ago. And most of the waste — or 61% — happens in households, while food service accounts for 26% and retailers account for 13%. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The United Nations Environment Program released the 2021 Food Waste Index Report on Thursday, the most comprehensive data on food waste across 54 countries.  

The report suggests that food waste is a significant problem, which data could help policymakers address. 

In 2019, 17% of all food that was available for consumption went to waste, the report said. Households were responsible for 11%, with food services responsible for 5% and retail outlets for 2%.

“The weight roughly equals that of 23 million fully loaded 40-ton trucks — bumper-to-bumper, enough to circle the Earth seven times,” the UNEP said in a written comment. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food security survey, 10.5% of U.S. households did not have enough food to sustain an active, healthy life for all members of the house in 2019. 

In addition to problems like hunger, and other social and economic troubles, wasted food contributes to environmental degradation. 

The report indicated that 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions came from food that ended up in the trash.

The report exists as part of the U.N.’s “Sustainable Development Goal 12.3,” which seeks to begin to reduce by half the amount of food wasted each year by establishing solid data on the waste. 

The authors of the report say food waste represents an “underexploited” area for policymakers.

“Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food and thus reduce hunger and save money at a time of global recession,” Executive Director of the UNEP Inger Andersen said in a prepared statement.


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