Food waste and its consequences have become such a hot topic in a variety of settings, including academia, politics, and government. Regardless of the topics discussed regarding food waste, the following key points should be kept in mind: 


  • It is a global issue (affecting everyone).

  • To address the issue, targets have been set both nationally and internationally.

  • Most (if not all) food waste statistics show that households are the most significant contributors to this phenomenon. 


If one does not examine the figures carefully, the importance of the issue may be underestimated.

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Global Food waste

  • Globally, approximately a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted (FAO, 2011). FAO's Food Loss Index (FLI) estimates that globally, around 14 percent of all food produced is lost from the post-harvest stage up to, but excluding, the retail stage (FAO, 2019).

  • According to the UNEP Food Waste Index 2021, around 931 million tonnes of food waste were generated in 2019 – 61% of which came from households, 26% from food service and 13% from retail – suggesting that 17% of global food production may be wasted at these stages of the food supply chain.

Target

The United Nations has been at the forefront of raising awareness about food waste. They've emphasized the problem as a global issue that poses a significant barrier to achieving suitability.  As a result, they have been leading the development of mechanisms to address the problem. One such mechanism is to establish a common goal to help address the issue on a global scale. This was accomplished through the UN's sustainable development goal 12.3, which states: 

  • 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

As a result of the UN's global target and mass awareness campaigns, multiple countries have adopted it and established region/country-specific targets and mechanisms to address the issue. This is the case for the entire European Union and the United States.

Food waste in the European Union (EU)

According to the European Commission


  • In the EU, over 58 million tonnes of food waste (131 kg/inhabitant) are generated annually (Eurostat, 2023), with an associated market value estimated at 132 billion euros (SWD (2023)421)".

  • Eurostat roughly estimates that around 10% of food made available to EU consumers (at retail, food services and households) may be wasted. At the same time, over 37 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day (Eurostat, 2023)".

  • Households generate more than half of the total food waste (54%) in the EU with 70% of food waste arising at household, food service and retail (Eurostat, 2023). Wasting food is not only an ethical and economic issue but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources



Food waste in EU, Trash can, transparent background 1

Targets

Referring to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the EU has also set targets aimed at addressing the issue of food waste by requesting member states to put in place mechanisms to address (reduce) the issue by 2030: 

  • By 10%, in processing and manufacturing,

  • By 30% (per capita), jointly at retail and consumption (restaurants, food services and households).

Food waste in the United states (USA)

Referencing feeding America, people waste 80 million tons of food every year, which equals 149 billion meals. They throw away over $444 billion worth of food annually. 

Food waste in USA, transparent background

Targets

Because of the global nature of the issue and the significant concern it raises, the United States via its department of Agriculture (USDA) has also taken action and has set a target to help address the issue: 

In 2015, the USDA joined with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.

Cause of Food waste in Households

When looking at data on where the most waste is generated, it is clear that households are the largest contributors to food waste. Then it becomes interesting to ask why.  According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the following are the leading causes of food waste: 

  • Improper storage – food not being used before it goes bad. Food spoilage at home occurs due to, lack of visibility in refrigerators, partially used ingredients and misjudged food needs.

  • Over-Preparing – cooking or serving too much food. Cooking portions have increased over time and large meals often include more food than can be finished. In addition, people often forget to eat leftovers and end up throwing them away.

  • Large Portions – commonly observed at restaurants, increased portion size largely contributes to waste. Restaurants meals are often left uneaten and edible leftovers are often left at the restaurant. All-you-can-eat buffets are particularly wasteful as extra food can't legally be re-used or donated due to health code restrictions. The common practice of keeping buffets fully stocked during business hours (rather than allowing items to run out near closing) creates waste.

  • Date Label Confusion – food is prematurely discarded due to confusion over the meaning of date labels (e.g., "sell by," "best by," "use by," etc.).

  • Overbuying – sales on unusual products and promotions that encourage impulse and bulk food purchases at retail stores often lead consumers to purchase items that don't fit into their regular meal plans and spoil before they can be used.

  • Poor Planning – Without meal plans and shopping lists, consumers often make inaccurate estimates of what and how many ingredients they will use during the week. Unplanned restaurant meals or food delivery can also lead to food at home going bad before it can be used.

  • Lack of freezing – confusion about whether a product is suitable for freezing and how best to freeze it to maintain its quality and storage life can lead to food spoilage.