UN: "17 per cent of all food goes to waste"


A new United Nations report estimates that 931 million tonnes (or 17 per cent) of food available to consumers - in stores, households and restaurants - went to waste in 2019. It also shows that food waste is a global problem and not just occurring in wealthier countries.


Global issue

The Food Waste Index Report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) examines food waste in stores, restaurants and households. The report contains the most comprehensive data on food waste collected to date and includes data from 54 countries. The study estimates that about 17 per cent of all food goes to waste. About 60 per cent of the 'waste' is thrown away at home.


Food waste is generally thought of as a problem almost exclusive to richer countries - consumers simply buy more than they need - but this study found a significant level of food waste in just about every country, regardless of the income level.


However, as the BBC points out, the report does include several gaps that could explain the extent to which the problem differs between low- and high-income countries. For example, the study does not distinguish between "voluntary" and "involuntary" waste. "We haven't looked deeper at this issue, but in low-income countries, the cold chain is not fully assured because of lack of access to energy," admitted Martina Otto from UNEP.


Based on the report, one can't make a clear distinction between the waste of edible and inedible food (such as bones and shells). That specific data is only available for the richer countries. "Countries with lower incomes are most likely wasting much less edible food," says Otto.


Apart from these shortcomings, food waste has enormous ecological, social and economic consequences. Food waste accounts for 8 to 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. "If we want to get serious about tackling climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste," concludes UNEP Director Inger Andersen.