Food waste in a food insecure world


According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, one fourth of the food wasted each year could feed all of the world’s hungry people- and a few more. In fact, last year alone, six million turkeys were estimated to have been discarded over Thanksgiving. This is a sobering thought and one that poses a potential solution to the global hunger crisis.

Varying reports from around the world have highlighted that a vast quantity of food is wasted or lost each year. These reports, detailing how, where and when food is being lost, go one step further in allowing us to understand why and how such catastrophic waste is happening. Understanding exactly where this waste occurs is crucial to effectively improving our food systems. For example, if food is lost or wasted in the production, storage or transportation stages, it can result in reduced food availability and increased vulnerability of our food system. Furthermore, food loss also constitutes a waste of resources used to produce this food, i.e. water, land, energy, labour and capital.

In order to achieve SDG2, we must address this issue as it plays a critical role in ending hunger, food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agricultural practices. These reports constitute an opportunity; a greater understanding of food waste will lead to the implementation of pre-emptive or reactive solutions that reduce food waste.

Food Waste Infographic

Food waste at a global level

Roughly one-third of food produced globally for consumption every year is lost or wasted. It is possible to map where waste occurs: An estimated 95-115 kg per capita is wasted each year by consumers in Europe and North America compared to 6-11 kg a year in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia.

It is also possible to determine when food is wasted: In developing countries, 40% of losses occur post-harvest and at processing stages whereas more than 40% of losses occur at retail and consumer levels in industrialised countries.

Who wastes the most food?

Graph of Food Waste by Region

Based on figures from World Economic Forum, the United States is the main culprit when it comes to producing food waste. This is not surprising given two recent reports by Rockefeller Foundation and Natural Resources Defense Council that draw attention to the large amount of food being wasted in Denver, Nashville and NYC. The report studied the amount, type and reasons for food loss in order to identify solutions. Two-thirds of residential food waste is edible and is discarded either because it is moldy or spoilt or because people are not eating leftovers.

The report shows the need for change in the food system. A more efficient use of surplus food alone could result in 68 million more meals being donated annually, which would significantly reduce the proportion of people with unmet food needs in these three cities. A pro-active, holistic approach to improve the sustainability of the food system would also reduce the quantity of money, water and energy consumed as well as feed more people.

Dubai- a city with a solution

Dubai's Zero Food Waste Infographic

Similarly, a report on food waste in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) highlights similar problems with an estimated $3.54 billion spent on food waste annually. As such, the Dubai Municipality has launched a major campaign to tackle waste by asking food establishments for creative ideas and tools to identify food loss, the causes of this loss and potential solutions. As part of this campaign, Dubai more generally has implemented the following two strategies:

  • UAE Food Bank- The Food Bank aims to reduce food waste as well as help feed those in need through donations of food surplus from local residents.
  • Dubai Carbon’s “District Waste” Campaign- This project has two aims- the first is to transform food waste into a fuel source. The second objective is to decentralise waste management to a community-level so that the waste generator (or consumer) plays a greater role in the waste cycle and can more easily see the benefits of waste reduction.

Other possible solutions

There are a number of possible solutions that tackle food waste with a pre-emptive or reactive approach for a range of audiences.

  • ReFED’s food waste innovator database identifies and analyses 27 solutions to reduce food waste that vary in type (prevention, recovery and recycling) as well as economic value and feasibility in the United States. This database can help users understand the impact of a solution as well as its potential for scaling up. Two examples include standardized date labeling and consumer education campaigns.
  • “Best Før” supermarkets sell out-out-date food have been established in Norway. As other stores and supplies won’t buy products that will soon expire, “Best Før” buys and sells this produce at a discounted price. It also has set up a website that helps supermarkets identify food that will soon expire so it can either be sold at a reduced price or sent to local food banks.
  • Conversion technology, created by Kamine Development Corporation and California Safe Soil, transforms food waste that can no longer be donated for human consumption into animal feed or fertilizer.
  • The Chefs' Manifesto has been created in line with SDG2 that identifies food waste as a key problem area by chefs and a topic to be addressed. An action plan, launching later this year, will detail how chefs and kitchens can address this issue.
  • OZ Harvest is a food rescue organization that collects surplus food from commercial outlets and delivers it to charities across Australia. An estimated 100 tonnes of food is saved each week from over 3,000 food donors i.e. supermarkets, hotels, airports and farmers.
  • Too Good to Go- an app helping to fight food waste by connecting shops with unsold food to customers who can buy the food at a discounted price. 
  • Gastromotiva is a civil society organization that uses food and gastronomy as a “social agent” to transform the lives of marginalized groups, teaching them about cooking, sustainable food education and food waste programs etc.
  • Winnow has designed a technology system that allows chefs and kitchens to document their production of food waste. This information is used by kitchens to inform more efficient decisions around food usage that will reduce food waste and costs. 
  • WFP's #RecipeForDisaster- a multi-week social media movement that aims to spotlight food waste by highlighting simple solutions we can take to prevent waste in our own homes. #RecipeForDisaster challenges individuals to think before they condemn food to a landfill, by first imagining what that ingredient could become. It could become part of the most powerful recipe in the world, a dish made from food that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Recipe for disaster- milk statistic