using data to drive down food waste

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Approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted – around 1.3 billion tonnes every year. This amounts to roughly US$680 billion in developed countries and US$310 billion in developing countries, with a carbon footprint of about 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to 8 per cent of global greenhouse emissions.

Cutting food waste is one of the most effective ways to reduce climate impact.

However, lack of data has been pointed to as a major cause for inaction. “Everybody thinks they don’t waste food,” says Clementine O’Connor, Sustainable Food Systems Programme Officer at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Food waste data helps governments understand the scale of the problem at home, and make the case for action.” Data also helps countries and companies identify hotspots in the supply chain, evaluate the efficacy of policy measures, estimate the potential for material recovery and track progress towards 2030.

How food waste data can support effective planning

Existing global estimates rely on extrapolation of data from a small number of countries, often using old data. A better measurement may show that action on food waste prevention could benefit developing countries as well as developed ones. For example, a 2015 study in Ghana shows household food waste generation at 80-86kg per capita across regions, comparable with rates in New Zealand. Making up an average of 48 per cent of all municipal solid waste and 79 per cent of all organic waste in Ghana, food waste data can also reveal opportunities to reduce the burden on waste management systems through interventions to both prevent food waste and make better use of it through circular systems.

In Chittagong, Bangladesh, household waste data shows that vegetable/food waste represents 62 per cent of all household solid waste. One study outlines how this can be “converted from burden to resource” through segregation at the source.

UNEP together with expert partner WRAP will publish new global food waste estimates as part of the Food Waste Index report in early 2021.

UNEP supports countries in setting food waste baselines, developing national food waste strategies and identifying scalable solutions to transition to healthier, more sustainable food systems.

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