This report highlights the need for action on food waste and provides concrete examples of how this can be achieved. 

Key points
  • One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, while the value of global consumer food waste is more than US$400 billion per year
  • As the global middle class expands over the course of the decade, the cost could rise to US$600 billion, according to the new research
  • 7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), 3.3 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent (CO2eq) per year, are due to food waste


The value of the global food and agriculture sector is around US$8 trillion, or 10% of global GDP, and it provides employment to over a billion people, or a third of the world’s workforce (ILO 2014). The production and consumption of food demands huge resources, in terms of raw materials and the land required to produce these, and the energy, capital, labour required for growing, manufacturing, packaging, storing, transporting and cooking around 4 billion tonnes of food for 7 billion people. Technological advances and cultural/societal shifts have brought huge changes to both the industry and food consumption, and the rate of change is accelerating.

However, major adjustments are required to the food system in order to provide sufficient, healthy food for a growing and developing world population, to ensure international and national food supply chains are secure and to reduce environmental impact (including climate change mitigation and the protection of biodiversity). Solutions include increasing production (sustainable intensification), making production and products more sustainable (reducing impacts across a range of metrics, more sustainable sourcing and so on) and reducing the impact of food consumption (including the amounts and types of food eaten, and methods of food storage and preparation).

Reducing food waste is an important and achievable approach to making both food production and consumption more sustainable as well as delivering significant economic benefits. WRAPs work on ‘Securing the Future’ illustrated how reducing food waste could make substantial contributions to reducing the impact of food (WRAP 2010). Recent work by the World Resources Institute (WRI 2013a,b) and Ray et al (2013) has again highlighted the need to develop a ‘menu of solutions’ to achieve a sustainable food system that include reducing the amounts of food wasted.


Key recommendations:

  • Governments should consider supporting the establishment of independent organisations, such as WRAP in the UK, which can facilitate and evaluate efforts to reduce consumer food waste and food waste in grocery and hospitality supply chains. UNEP, FAO and WRAP have recently produced detailed guidance on the development and implementation of effective food waste prevention strategies, and tactical implementation plans (UNEP et al 2014). This type of collaborative working in countries such as the UK, Norway and Japan is delivering significant reductions in food waste, saving many billions of dollars per year.
  • In developing countries, governments and international organisations should invest in infrastructure and help coordinate food production, storage and distribution activities to reduce food waste; and in particular encourage the roll out of sustainable and effective cold and frozen supply chains. IMechE (2014) have estimated 25% of food waste in the developing world could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment, helping to alleviate hunger and improve global food security.
  • Emerging cities with fast growing middle class populations can reduce waste management costs, and help residents save money, by setting up and supporting consumer food waste prevention campaigns, such as Love Food Hate Waste. The latter campaign deployed in West London yielded waste disposal savings of up to eight times the campaign costs.
  • Private companies can increase competitiveness and resilience through food waste prevention, but the most significant gains can only be made through whole-chain collaboration. Companies should support the development of, and participate in sector agreements (see UNEP et al 2014) to enable such collaboration.

In addition to the points above, several very practical short term recommendations can be made:

  • Governments and companies should support the development of the WRI-led ‘Food Loss and Waste Protocol’ and adopt this when finalised, to establish more robust food waste estimates.
  • Governments and companies should make use of robust measurement techniques, such as those recommended by the protocol, to evaluate the impact of new national, regional and local interventions aimed at reducing food waste – expanding the evidence base to encourage and inform future action on food waste prevention.
  • Organisations such as UNEP and FAO should consider, with others, developing a mechanism for hosting, sharing and analysing the increasing number of studies reporting food waste levels, drivers and evaluating interventions, to increase the pace and geographic spread of change.

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