Global food production must increase by 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 refers to the discard of edible foods at the retail and consumer levels, mostly in developed countries. This food wastage represents a missed opportunity to improve food security and comes at a steep environmental price.
The financial costs of food wastage are substantial and amount to about USD 1 trillion each year. However, food wastage also causes serious environmental impacts. Phase I of the project produced the first ever global Food Wastage Footprint (FWF) to quantify the impacts on the atmosphere, water, land and biodiversity. The project used an LCA model (see Concept Note 1 and Technical Document) to assess the magnitude of the environmental impacts of food wastage and identify ‘hotspots’ (for regions, commodities and stages of the food supply chain) where mitigation efforts should focus. A supplementary Toolkit was produced detailing best practices for the reduction of food wastage. The results were launched in September 2013 by the Director-Generals of FAO and UNEP.
Phase II of the FWF project translated the environmental impacts of food wastage into societal costs, measured in monetary terms. It developed a full-cost accounting (FCA) methodology (see Concept Note 2) to evaluate the direct financial costs, the lost value of ecosystems goods and services, and the loss of well-being associated with natural resource degradation. The global full costs of food wastage amount to about 2.6 trillion USD per year, including USD 700 billion of environmental costs and USD 900 billion of social costs. Using the FCA framework, seven case studies investigated the socio-environmental benefits of different mitigation options. These results were presented to the FAO Regional Conference for Europe in April 2014.
The FWF project demonstrates that reducing food wastage is a logical priority to establish more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. Investments in food wastage reduction can achieve economic, environmental and social dividends, while contributing to food security and helping to mitigate climate change.