Over one-sixth of all food produced ends up being thrown in the bin

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Tangerines in landfill

Discarded tangerines in Dnipro, Ukraine

Ukrinform/Shutterstock

Over one-sixth of all food produced globally ends up thrown away, a UN analysis has found. Around 931 million tonnes of food went into the waste bins of households, retailers, restaurants and other food services in 2019.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UK charity WRAP, which promotes sustainability, looked at food waste in retail outlets, restaurants and homes by reviewing government data and academic studies across 54 countries with a mix of incomes.

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Their joint 2021 Food Waste Index Report found that 17 per cent of all food produced is thrown away by consumers. Most of this waste – 11 per cent of total food – occurs in homes. Globally, the average person throws away 121 kilograms of food, with 74 kg of this happening within households.

Food waste isn’t just a problem in high-income countries, the report found. On average, the annual per capita food waste in homes is 79 kg in high-income countries versus 91 kg in lower middle-income countries.

The report included both edible and non-edible waste, such as bones or vegetable peelings that must be thrown away. Lower middle-income countries may have higher per capita food waste because food is more often prepared from scratch, which might increase inedible food waste.

“A lot more data on edible and non-edible food waste in households is needed, especially in lower middle-income countries,” says a spokesperson for UNEP.

Food losses pre and post-harvest and food waste by consumers has a substantial impact on the environmental and climate change, making up around 9 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It also increases demand on land for agriculture and raises water use.

UN figures show that 690 million people go to bed hungry, a number expected to rise sharply as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and 3 billion people can’t afford a healthy diet.

Reducing food waste is vital and all individuals have a part to play, says Richard Swannell at WRAP. “Rather than focussing on supply chains, we need to tackle food waste inside homes with behaviour change campaigns,” he says.

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