Food Wastage Footprint

Each year, 30 percent of global food production is lost after harvest or wasted in shops, households and catering services. This represents USD 750 billion worth of food every year, and that is at producer prices. At retail prices, the value reaches a trillion dollars – twice the GDP of Norway. If Nature asked us to pay the total bill for food wastage, it could charge society at least another 700 billion dollars a year. Because that wasted food still: caused greenhouse gas emissions and climate change damages ($ 429 billion); used water for irrigation and increased water scarcity ($ 172 billion); cleared forests and eroded land ($ 42 billion); led to loss of pollinators, fishes and other biodiversity ($ 32 billion).

And there is more. Social costs worth another trillion dollars are caused by food that never added one bit of nutrition to humanity. This includes: pesticides impact on human health ($ 150 billion); loss of livelihoods, as natural resources become more scarce ($ 280 billion); conflicts induced by pressure on natural resources ($ 390 billion); and subsidies spent to produce food wastage ($ 119 billion). But those are only the costs that can be calculated. Food wastage has many more costs that cannot be quantified. Imagine if we quantified: the loss of wetlands that purify water, or of biodiversity of pastures, or the value of fish discarded the scarcity of essential agricultural inputs such as phosphorus, or the increase in food prices because of less supply… Assigning a monetary value to environmental or social impacts will always be inexact. How to value beautiful landscape or a child health?

However we look at it, reducing food wastage makes sense economically, environmentally and socially. But not all the food wastage reduction measures are equal, some are better than others for nature and society. Reducing food loss by raising consumer awareness or investing in improved post-harvest infrastructures and reducing food loss means we avoid using natural resources in the first place, leaving them available for next harvest or future generations (100% of CO2 saved). Food that is about to be wasted on the market can timely redirected to charities (60%). Or if it is not up to human consumption standards, then think of feeding it to livestock, so that there is less need to produce animal feed (16%).

When you save the food, you save the resources used to produce it. Food waste used to produce biogas is surely a better option than dumping it in landfills (2.4%) BUT this wastage reduction measure is the least environmentally-effective. All food reduction measures are different in terms of climate impact and use of water, land and biodiversity. Reducing wastage by not creating it in the first place should be a priority for all.