Food waste costs global economy £470bn a year

Food waste costs the world's economy some $750bn (£470bn) a year, and is "wreaking significant harm" on natural resources, according to a new report.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated some of the natural and fiscal impacts of food waste globally.

Among the key findings are the carbon footprint of food produced but not eaten: 3.3 giga tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which makes food waste the third ‘top emitter’ of greenhouse gases behind the US and China.

More than half (54%) of the world’s food wastage occurs ‘upstream’ during production, post-harvest handling and storage, according to FAO’s study. The rest (46%) happens ‘downstream’, at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.

FAO said a combination of consumer behaviour and lack of communication in the supply chain underlies the higher levels of food waste in affluent societies. Consumers fail to plan their shopping, over-purchase, or over-react to best-before dates, while quality and aesthetic standards lead retailers to reject large amounts of perfectly edible food.

Successful campaigns and initiatives to reduce avoidable food waste are included in a toolkit, published alongside the report. A number of UK-based initiatives are spotlighted – both private and public, including the Landfill Tax, the Courtauld Commitment, new packaging innovation and the ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign.

In fact, new figures released by WRAP, which started the campaign, reveal the impact it is having on waste collections in West London. In six months, LFHW activity helped residents cut avoidable waste by 14%, saving boroughs £1.3m in disposal costs. Scaling it up across the capital could cut food waste by 68,000 tonnes and save £7.3m said WRAP.

“The Local Government Association has identified waste disposal as one of the most costly areas for local authorities,” said WRAP director Richard Swannell. “Our work highlights one way these can be reduced cost effectively. Retailers and brands have a role to play too,” he added, “particularly through the Courtauld Commitment.”

WRAP brought the issue of food waste to the fore in 2007, when it released the UK’s first detailed food waste figures. Later this year new research and updated household food waste figures for the whole UK will be published.

At the last count, the UK was throwing away 7.2 million tonnes of food waste every year, of which 4.4 million are unavoidable.

edie staff

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