If food waste was a country, it would have a bigger carbon footprint than India

Food waste is one of the easiest environmental issues to talk about, as almost everyone can agree that it’s a bad thing. If nothing else, it’s a waste of money, and everybody wants to get more out of their household budgets. It’s also a good place to make a difference, because there are so many benefits to stopping it. Wasting less food would make better use of land and water, improve food security, and lower emissions too.

As the World Resources Institute have pointed out, it’s easy to underestimate the climate impact of food waste:

If food waste was its own country, it would have the third highest emissions in the world.

If food waste was its own country, it would have the third highest emissions in the world.

These emissions come from the vast quantities of food that ends up rotting in landfill, but behind them are all the emissions that went into the food that went uneaten. That includes the emissions from livestock, the energy and fertilizer used on the farm, and then the energy for processing and transporting the food. Any energy used to store the food will add to that emissions bill, along with energy for cooking. Altogether that’s 4.4 gigatonnes of emissions every year, 8% of the global total.

Up to now most of the work I’ve seen on this has been national consumer campaigns or development NGO reports, but I was interested to see the launch of Champions 12.3 last month. It’s a coalition of business and government leaders working together on food waste – its name references UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, to halve global food waste by 2030. Last year another group of agencies produced the Food Loss and Food Waste Protocol, a way of standardizing how we measure food waste – a key first step to understanding the problem at the international level. It looks like it might be getting the specific attention it needs as a global issue.

And so it should. At present a third of the food produced in the world goes uneaten, possibly more. In developed countries it tends to go to waste, while developing countries suffer more from food loss. Either way, a more efficient food system is one of the most obvious win-wins out there.


This post first appeared on Jeremy's excellent blog, and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons license.

Photo: Mike Freedman, Creative Commons