What is Food Waste and Why It’s a Problem (2020 Statistics)

We’ve all been there:

Your chicken or vegetables go bad in the fridge. Or maybe you’ve cooked a bigger portion than you intended, and you know it won’t taste good again the next day.

There is a quick solution. Just throw it away. 

Now imagine that happening with billions of people around the world.

And just like that, through a mindless everyday task, you have all contributed to one of the biggest problems in the world: food waste.

But how big of a problem is it? Is it as simple as people throwing food in the garbage?

We’ll cover all things related to food waste in this article. Read on to learn more about:

  • What is Food Waste and Food Loss (With Examples)
  • Why Food Waste is a Problem (15+ Food Waste Statistics)
  • What Are the Causes of Food Waste?
  • How You Can Help to Reduce Food Waste

What is Food Waste and Food Loss (With Examples)

Food waste is essentially food that was produced or harvested for consumption but is instead thrown away.

When food spoils or expires, it’s not suitable for consumption anymore and gets thrown away. That’s food loss.

So, when you go to a restaurant and don’t finish your plate, the cook will throw your food away. And that’s food waste. Whereas if your broccoli start smelling in the fridge, that’s food loss.

Although food waste management experts use two different terms, both food waste and food loss contribute to food waste.

All the inedible parts of your food, however, like leaves or shells, are not counted. This is because they don’t fit the definition of food waste as “intended for consumption”. 

We should note here that both waste and loss happen throughout the entire supply chain. So, there can be waste from the farmer, the restaurant that’s cooking your food, or the grocery store. 

The waste that comes from supply chains was put in the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since restaurants, canteens, and cafes were closed, all their food inventory went to waste. Thus, they contributed to the creation of already huge mountains of wasted food.

food waste mountain
A food waste mountain in Singapore. Source: Grand Cornett

Why Food Waste is a Problem (10+ Food Waste Statistics)

Now that we’ve touched base on what food waste is, let’s discuss how it is harmful.

You may be aware of some of the negative effects of food landfills in terms of space use, but the issues run deeper than you think.

Two of the biggest concerns associated with food waste are CO2 emissions and water waste.

Food Waste Causes Carbon Emissions

Each kilogram of waste contributes to the release of 2.5 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere. And globally, we throw away around 1.3 billion tons of food every year. That’s one-third of the world’s entire food production.

If you’re numerically-savvy, you’ve probably done the math: that’s 3.25 billion tones of CO2 emissions per year. By comparison, the CO2 released from all air conditioning devices around the world amounts to 2 billion tons per year

Food Waste Leads to Water Waste and Ethical Concerns

As for water waste, 1.3 billion tons of wasted food leads to 45 trillion gallons of water being lost every year. Water is used throughout the entirety of the food production cycle, and when we throw food away, we also waste the water used to produce it.

Beyond the environmental and economic implications, wasting food can also be regarded as immoral. That’s because about 8.9% of the world’s population is hungry or malnourished. Parts of the food we are wasting can go to the 135 million people suffering from acute hunger.

Food Waste is a Priority for Sustainable Development Goals

Here are some other mind-blowing statistics:

  • The water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted is equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva.
  • 28% of the world’s agricultural land produces food that is wasted or lost.
  • The economic impact of food waste is calculated at about 750 billion USD per year.
  • In 2020 alone, we have already wasted around 892 million tonnes of food.

The problem is so big that the United Nations set a waste reduction goal as part of their Sustainable Development Goals. The objective is to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030“.

What Are the Causes of Food Waste?

As we’ve already mentioned, some of the food is wasted before it ever reaches you. 

Food waste across the supply chain is more prominent in underdeveloped countries. Whereas in developed countries, most of the waste happens at the retailer and consumer level.

Let’s look more in-depth at some of these different causes.

#1 – Never being harvested

25% of a farmer’s produce is left to rot in the field. This is mainly due to imperfections in the production process. 

Consumers and retailers have become increasingly picky about the quality and look of their fruits and vegetables. So, if the product has some imperfections, farmers tend to disregard it completely and let it rot in the fields. 

Source: The Asian Age

A decrease in demand can also lead to food never leaving the farm. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, led to a huge drop in demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, both by consumers and grocery stores and restaurants. 

So farmers had to let their produce go and not harvest it, leading to tons of wasted food.

#2 – Damaged on the road

Transporting food is harder and more difficult to do than you think. Refrigeration units and big freezers are put in place. But sometimes taking food from point A to point B can damage it in various ways:

  • Refrigeration units can break or deregulate temperature on the way. With no one to check on their status, they can quickly spoil.
  • Food can smash into each other or when transported through a bumpy road. This can lead to the packaging of packed foods to break, fruit and vegetables to be damaged, and lots of food to fall out of their containers.
  • Blame the weather! If it ends up being too hot or too cold that day, food that’s not in temperature-controlled containers can end up being spoiled. 

#3 – Thrown out by inspection

Most food never goes directly to grocery stores or restaurants. It usually stops at a distribution facility. There, designated inspectors look at its quality and look for any imperfections.

Even if the food has been lucky enough to survive the long road to their destination, it is now up to facility inspectors to determine its fate if it has suffered a bit of damage.

Once the food inspectors have removed all the unlucky foods, they’ll now be put in another truck to be transported to their next destination.

#4 – Discarded by grocery stores and restaurants

During transportation from the distribution facility to the retailers or restaurants, a heap of damage can happen, which we’ve already discussed.

So, once food reaches its (almost) final destination, it’s also inspected by the grocery stores and restaurants. They throw out any potentially damaged food, which might have been unhealthy to eat, spoiled, or overripen. 

Once they’re up for sale in grocery stores, some of them might end up not being purchased by customers before their expiration dates, which leads to food loss.

The food bought by restaurants suffers a similar fate. Restaurants throw away some of the food that expires before serving to customers. And all of the customers’ unfinished meals go in the trashcan too.

#5 – Thrown away by end customers

And now we get to you. As a food purchaser and consumer, you are the end of the chain. However, don’t underestimate your impact.

Imagine that only a portion of the food makes it to your table, once it’s been filtered through the supply chain. And then you end up wasting some of that food as well.

By wasting food, you’re contributing to a large problem, which is threatening our water resources and the quality of air in our environment.

How You Can Help

By now, you should be aware of what food waste is, the scope of the problem, and who is causing it. Luckily, some companies are addressing this issue at all levels, and TotalCtrl is at the forefront of that initiative.

We have created food waste solutions for municipalities, restaurants, and for you, the consumer. 

By downloading TotalCtrl Home, you can dramatically reduce the amount of waste you produce. You get control over your food inventory, get expiration date alerts, and customized recipes based on the food you have on your fridge and your pantry.

If you want to be part of the change, head on over to the App Store or Google Play and download TotalCtrl Home for free!

food waste mountain
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