An estimated 930 million tonnes of food sold in 2019 – that is, 17% of all food – went into the waste bins of households, restaurants and shops, according to a new UN research conducted to support global efforts to halve food waste by 2030. Some food is also lost on farms and in supply chains, which means that overall a third of food is never eaten.

Produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organisation WRAP, the Food Waste Index Report 2021 claims to offer a methodology for countries to accurately measure loss.

‘If we want to get serious about tackling climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste,’ says Inger Andersen, executive director, UNEP.

The study reveals that households discard 11 per cent of food at the consumption stage of the supply chain, while food services and retail outlets waste 5 and 2 per cent, respectively. This has substantial environmental, social and economic impacts, according to the report, which points out that 8 to 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with unconsumed food.

‘Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food and thus reduce hunger and save money at a time of global recession,’ Andersen points out.

Marcus Gover, the head of Wrap, has this to say: ‘We are so used to wasting food that we’ve forgotten its value, and the cost that feeding our growing global population has on the natural world. Like it or not, we in our homes are the most significant part of the problem.’

While the household breakdown between edible and uneatable food, like shells and bones, is available only in some high-income countries, there is a lack of information in lower-income countries where proportions may be higher. It is crucial to fill this knowledge gap, according to the report.

UNEP will launch regional working groups to aid countries’ capacities to measure and record food waste in time for the next round of SDG 12.3 reporting in late 2022.  (SDG 12.3 aims at halving per-capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.) It will also support these countries as they develop national baselines to track progress towards the 2030 goal, and design strategies to prevent food waste.