Why is it crucial to reduce food loss and food waste?

Food waste is one of the most significant problems humanity has to deal globally with as it creates pressing multilateral issues and effects.  Approximately one-third of the food produced never makes it to the table and ends up in rubbish.  Put simply, imagine going to the supermarket, buying three shopping bags of food, and immediately throwing one away as you step out.  This is the reality and a problem in Europe and worldwide that we must find solutions to.  Solutions towards this direction will eventually contribute to no less than two significant issues our world is facing.  These are food insecurity and hunger, as well as climate change.  As it will be argued below and according to UN sustainable goals, reduction in food waste and food loss will directly impact Goal 2 – zero hunger, Goal 12 – sustainable consumption and production, and Goal 13 – climate action.

Before we state the problems that arise with food loss and food waste and why it is essential to tackle this phenomenon, it is important to clarify the differences between them.  Since these terms will be used in different arguments according to the situation, it is central to clarifying their meaning and significant differences.  The alterations arise accordingly on where they occur in the production, supply, and consumption chain.  To begin with, ‘food loss’ refers to the excess that occurs before the food reaches the consumer as an effect of issues taking place in the production, storage, and distribution phases.  On the other hand, ‘food waste’ refers to the food that is for consumption but for a number of reasons, is being discarded at the consumption or retail phases.  Put simply, ‘food loss’ mainly occurs and concerns the producers and ‘food waste’ the consumers.

Food production alone, through the way and the means used, has a massive environmental impact.  But considering that roughly one-third of what is produced for humans is wasted or lost (FAO, 2011), that means that one-third of this damage takes place ‘without reason.’  Most of this uneaten food eventually ends up in landfills where it roots and releases greenhouse emissions, which according to the UNEP Food Waste Index Report (2021), is about 8%-10% of the total greenhouse gas emissions.  This one-third of the produced food thrown away uneaten, in its procedure of being decomposed, produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.  This is more than what all single countries in the world emit except the United States and China.  “If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world” (UNEP Food Waste Index Report, 2021). 



Below we quote some statistics given by the World Wildlife Fund (2023) for a better picture of the scale of the problem and its causes and effects:

·        Water use: 66 trillion gallons of water go toward producing food that’s lost or wasted;

·        Land use: The total area of land used to produce food that was lost or wasted on farms globally equates to nearly 1.7 million square miles – an area larger than the Indian subcontinent;

·        Climate impact: Wasted food emits more than 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases – which, as said above is about 10% of global greenhouse emissions.

Consequently, tackling food loss and waste should be on the road to securing environmental sustainability.  Food loss and food waste will decrease the number of new resources (energy, land, and water) needed for increased food production (Hensel, 2021).

                                                                                    Figure 1: FAO (2023)

Reduction in food loss and waste will not only help protect the environment by defending our natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it will also improve access to nutrition for vulnerable populations by strengthening global food security.  This urgent need to reduce food loss and waste towards this goal was underlined in the 2020 UN Report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, which specifically stated that nearly 690 million people are hungry (8.9% of the world population).  Combined actions between supply and production chains in the food industries (e.g., increasing efficiency, improving storage), alongside consumerism and our diet and cooking habits, would eventually mean that more food will feed a growing population.  However as argued above, 1/3 goes uneaten and negatively impacts global hunger.  Of course, as the situation with environmental sustainability, the link between food security and food loss and waste is complex and context-dependent.  For example, as stated by Hensel (2021) “In low-income countries with high levels of food insecurity, food losses are often a more pressing problem than food waste. Therefore, reducing food losses at the early stages of the food supply chain may have the most positive food security impacts, as its effects will be felt throughout the rest of the chain. Additionally, reducing on-farm losses may also improve the security status of poor smallholder farmers and boost supplies in local or national food markets. On the other hand, reducing food losses or waste in high-income countries may not have a dramatic impact on overall food security, but a focus on food recovery and redistribution may increase access to food and improve the diets of those who are food insecure” (Hensel, 2021).  Therefore undoubtedly, one step and tool to address hunger and food security is by ensuring more of the global food is used to feed people, rather than ending up in landfills.

We all have a role to play in reducing food waste.  Since is a procedure we are all engaged in, we have to do better if we want to see a change in the problems argued above.  For economic benefits, for human health, for the environment, and for reducing global hunger young people have a significant role to play in the process of getting educated on the issue and raising awareness to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development goals which include halving food waste and reducing food losses by 2030.  Therefore, we will conclude by briefly stating some actions we all have to include in our daily lives in order to reduce food waste coming from households, as given by EUFIC (2021):

  1. Plan your meals
  2. Know how to store your food
  3. Understand ‘use by’ vs ‘best before’ dates
  4. Use what you have
  5. Avoid serving too much
  6. Know your moulds
  7. Share extra food with others
  8. Repurpose waste where possible

                                                                                                                   Figure 2: EUFIC (2021)


EUFIC (2021) How to reduce food waste at home, Eufic. Available at: https://www.eufic.org/en/food-safety/article/how-to-reduce-food-waste-at-home?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIhe748IKlgQMVP4RoCR0eDgRLEAAYASAAEgIzo_D_BwE (Accessed: 12 September 2023).

FAO (2011) Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention.

Hensel, K. (2021) Why reducing food loss and waste matters, IFT.org. Available at: https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/digital-exclusives/why-reducing-food-loss-and-waste-matters?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgcmrk6CagQMVSZRoCR3S4wY0EAAYBCAAEgJcV_D_BwE (Accessed: 08 September 2023).

WWF (2023) Food loss and waste, WWF. Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/food_practice/food_loss_and_waste/ (Accessed: 07 September 2023).

Environment, U. (2021) UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021, UNEP. Available at: https://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-2021 (Accessed: 07 September 2023).

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