Sustainability Pathways

Food Wastage Footprint

FAO projects that, under current production and consumption trends, global food production must increase 60% by 2050 in order to meet the demands of the growing world population. Yet, more than one third of the food produced today is lost or wasted. Food loss refers to the decrease in edible food mass at the production, post-harvest and processing stages of the food chain, mostly in developing countries. Food waste, a symptom of developed countries' consumeristic lifestyles, refers to the discard of foods at the retail and consumer levels. This food wastage represents a missed opportunity to food security and comes at a steep environmental price.

In avoiding food wastage, there is actually more that would be gained by its reduction than a mere reduction in its ‘footprint’. For instance, more efficient systems that reduce either losses or waste would likely result in additionally reduced GHG emissions, in part directly, since wastage typically generates methane emissions during food disposal, as well as indirectly, given that reducing wastage may lead to critical redesign of supply chains and retail models, which may result in less energy use along the food chain, and thus associated GHG emissions. Generally, less wastage is associated with more efficiency and eventually more effective recycling of resources and less transport and storage needs across long distances - all leading to savings in natural capital, less resource use and lower GHG emissions. With regards increased food security, including availability, access and utilization, reducing wastage can also be achieved by reducing certain loss factors, for instance, by increasing local supplies in Least Developed Countries or by promoting programmes where the food saved from an otherwise waste pathway in retailing is specifically accounted for and used as food aid.

To date, no study has analyzed the environmental impact of global food wastage. This project produced the first global Food Wastage Footprint (FWF) in order to quantify the impact of the food grown, but not eaten - both loss and waste - on the environment and the economy, with a view to assist decision-making along the food chain. This project offers, to the extent possible, a picture of the environmental footprint of global food wastage, with a particular emphasis on impacts on soil, water, biodiversity, and climate change. The aim is to bring more precision to the debate on the environmental impacts of food wastage, by providing a more consistent knowledge base, which can be used to underpin future policy debate in this area (see Concept Note 1).

The main project outcomes are:

  • The first phase of the FWF project estimated the embedded carbon, water, soil and biodiversity in food wastage by using the best available data: see Summary Report Technical Report and Power Point;
  • A Toolkit on Food Wastage Footprint Reduction has been produced, with tips for reducing, reusing and recycling food wastage;
  • Best practices are collected through a public database where organizations and individual experts with expertise on food wastage contribute by directly inputing into the Database;
  • The second phase of the FWF project defined methods for the economic valuation of environmental and related social costs of food wastage (see Concept Note 2). A Full-Cost Accounting (FCA) framework was first developed with stakeholders inputs through the E-Forum on full-cost accounting of food wastage which was held from 21 October to 24 November 2013. Although 245 persons registered, discussions confirmed the methodological challenges involved in full-cost accounting. Furthermore, expert knowledge was gathered through a face-to-face meeting organized on the occasion of events held by the Natural Capital Coalition in January 2014;
  • This project results were launched on the occasion of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe, 2 April 2014, that includes on its agenda a ministerial roundtable on food loss and waste. The publications featuring detailed results of Full-Cost Accounting of Food Wastage and Full Costs and Benefits of Food Wastage Reduction Measures are forthcoming. 

The ultimate objective of this project is to communicate that investments in food wastage reduction is the most logical step in the pursuit of sustainable production and consumption, including food security, climate change and other adverse environmental effects. 

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