The Environmental Impact of Food Waste

Did you know? Food waste is one of the largest contributors to global climate change. Growing, processing, and transporting food uses significant resources. If food is wasted, these resources are wasted too. In Ireland we are generating over 1 million tonnes of food waste each year.

Want to know more? Typically the term ‘food loss’ refers to food that is removed from the supply chain at an early stage, such as on the farm. ‘Food waste’ more specifically refers to food removed from the supply chain during distribution, in shops, restaurants or in our homes. Food waste can be either unavoidable/inedible for example, the stone from a fruit, or avoidable/edible such as bread that was uneaten and went mouldy.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) calculates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year. This directly contributes to food shortages, water stress, biodiversity loss and increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Globally, more than one quarter of food produced is wasted: with food loss and waste contributing 8-10% of total emissions.

But what does this mean?

  • Well, 1.4 billion hectares of land, which is equivalent to 28% of the world’s agricultural area or 200 Irelands, is used to produce food that is then lost or wasted.
  • In addition, each year over 100 times the water that flows through the River Shannon is used to produce food that is ultimately wasted.
  • 55% of food waste in Ireland is generated by the processing sector and 45% by commercial and household sectors.
  • As a result of all this, the economic losses associated with food loss, excluding seafood, are estimated to reach €550 billion a year.
  • According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) between 25% to 30% of all the food that is produced winds up being lost or wasted worldwide.

While some food waste is anaerobically digested to make biogas, composted, or rendered for animal food, some of the food waste produced is still going to landfill or incineration.

With all of these negative impacts, reducing global food waste has been identified as one of the most effective ways to fight climate change. In fact, as part of Project Drawdown, an international group of experts listed it as the 3rd most effective action we can take.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced in 2015 in response to global concern about climate change. These goals outline a global plan for ‘peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’.

Food waste is specifically mentioned under Goal 12, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’.

Goal 12, Target 12.3: ‘By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses’

Ireland, along with almost 200 other countries, has committed to achieving these goals. By applying some of the practices given throughout this site to your day-to-day life, you can be part of the global solution!

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