Food wastage is a global problem, and we all have a part to play in reducing it. As consumers, we throw away too much food. But much of our produce is wasted even before entering our supermarkets or homes.
Why is that? There’s much more to food wastage than simply the spoiled vegetables in your trash.
How much food do we waste, really? And what is the true cost of our food waste worldwide? What impact does it have?
In this article, we’ve rounded up 60+ of the most important and eye-opening statistics about food wastage, so you can understand why we waste food, who is most responsible, and — importantly — what we can do about it.
While demand for food is increasing on a global scale, so is food wastage. To better understand why and how we waste food around the world, let’s dig into some surprising statistics.
Globally, a third of all food produced for human consumption is thrown away. That equates to a staggering 1.3 billion tons of food waste every year.
Although we throw out a lot of food ourselves, much of the food wastage worldwide occurs before it even reaches our plate — whether that’s down to poor harvesting and transportation, or picky consumers.
When it comes to food waste, some countries have a greater role to play than others.
Developed countries in East Asia, North America, Australia, and Europe are responsible for most of the world’s food wastage — causing around $680 billion in losses every year.
In fully-developed countries, much less food is wasted during production due to efficient storage, handling, and processing facilities. That means consumer culture and behaviors are the single most significant cause in these countries.
While we’re all guilty of throwing food away into our household bins, more food wastage happens during production, postharvest handling, and storage than at any other stage.
It’s estimated that at least 75% of our worldwide food is lost during the production stage, showing that inefficient harvesting and processing practices are causing more damage than we first thought. In fact, production is the largest source of food waste overall.
Some foods are more likely to be wasted than others. So it’s no surprise that fresh ingredients such as vegetables and fruit are the biggest culprits.
20% of all fruit and vegetable wastage comes from production. Still, consumers are also responsible for a further 28% of wastage due to behaviors and expectations on how their five-a-day should look on the shelf.
Seafood isn’t far behind, with 11% lost during production and consumers causing a further 33% in wastage.
Most food wastage occurs before it reaches our mouths, and consumer cosmetic standards play a huge role in this. We’re all guilty of turning away food on the shelves because it doesn’t look a certain way, but supermarkets also do the same.
Around 20-40% of all fruit and vegetables are wasted by retailers. We care too much what our food looks like, so supermarkets don’t want to display “ugly produce” either — for fear of us not buying it. As a result, retailers generate 1.6 million tons of food waste per year.
Even with retailers being exceptionally picky about what food enters our supermarkets, consumers still continue to waste food — and not because it’s inedible.
30-50% of all food entering our homes is thrown away because of conservative labeling, including “best before” and “use by” dates, which supermarkets add to avoid legal action.
Although much of our food is in date and perfectly edible, we don’t like to take the risk. In the UK alone, £1 billion of food wasted is actually in date.
Statistically, young people aged 18-24 are likely to waste more food, highlighting the generational differences in attitudes towards food and food waste overall. Young families and high-income households earning over $100,000 are also the biggest food wasters worldwide.
While our grandparents grew up in a post-war world with rationed food, younger generations in developed countries don’t share the same cultural experiences. With social media food influencers and the perfect Instagram-able picture — plus a “live to eat” culture — is it any wonder that younger adults simply don’t see the value in the food on their plate?
Food waste adds up. Globally, we lose $750 billion a year wasting food, whether that’s at harvest, during production, or in our homes. Much of the food waste we cause could be avoided.
The total cost of food waste is even more shocking, estimated at $1 trillion, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, we are wasting more food than ever — and it’s set to increase by 33% in the next decade.
When we throw food away, it has to go somewhere. While it’s easy for us all to turn a blind eye to the food we waste, it’s having a drastic impact on our environment.
Food waste is responsible for an estimated 30% of all global greenhouse gases. As food rots, it creates methane gas, which is 28 times more harmful than carbon monoxide. Not only are we throwing away too much food, but we’re damaging the environment in the process.
While some countries have too much food, other countries don’t have nearly enough. More than 54 million people in America alone simply cannot afford or don’t have access to quality, nutritious food.
World hunger is a growing and serious problem, but it could be overcome if we invested $30 billion. Annually, we throw away $750 billion from food waste, which means we could solve worldwide hunger 25 times in a single year.
The food supply chain is huge and food is lost every step of the way. But some stages cause more food waste than others, and it’s not all down to consumers. Food waste isn’t the same in every country either, with some of the biggest culprits throwing away a staggering amount of produce every year.
Unsurprisingly, countries with larger populations waste much more food than others. The most food wastage comes from India, with around 67 million tons of food wasted every single year.
Other densely populated countries such as the US, China, Indonesia, and European nations are also high food wasters. The US follows India as the second biggest offender, wasting 49.7 million tons in a year.
Although the US is second when it comes to the most food wasted per country, it actually throws away more food per capita than any other nation.
On average, the US wastes 95.1kg of edible food per person per year, which is the highest globally. The average family throws out $1,500 in wasted food each year.
In total, food wastage in America accounts for 30-40% of the total food supply, meaning that nearly half of all food available in the US is thrown away.
The UK is one of Europe’s biggest food wasters, throwing away 26,082 tons each day.
That equates to 391 grams of food per person, and cost-wise, means that the average household is wasting £1.36 worth of food every day.
Usually, it’s because the food hasn’t been eaten in time for the “best before” or “use by” date. This only highlights how we’re all buying too much food, and perhaps, that we’re a little too conservative when it comes to labels.
41% of all food bought in the UK is thrown away because it hasn’t been used in time, but that’s not the only reason.
A further 28% of food is wasted due to personal preferences and assumptions that food has gone “off” or doesn’t quite look how we’d expect. Finally, another 25% of all food is wasted because people have overestimated how many ingredients they need, so too much was cooked or prepared.
Yearly, Australia throws out 4 million tons of food, which means that the average household wastes 345kg each year. Price-wise, this equates to a loss of $1,306 per household.
As with most other developed countries, Aussies are simply cooking too much food, don’t know how to use leftovers, or mistakenly throw food out before it’s inedible. For every 5 bags of grocery shopping, one is thrown in the bin before it reaches a plate.
In total, Australia throws out $8 billion worth of perfectly edible food each year. And there are 6 types of food that people in Australia waste the most.
The most commonly wasted food is fresh food, accounting for 33% of all Australian food waste. Leftovers account for 27%, while the third most thrown away food is packaged and long-life products. Drinks, frozen food, and takeaways also made the list, which only highlights our convenience-heavy lifestyle.
As it stands, the US throws away $161 billion on food waste annually — and that number is only growing. In 10 years, America will waste an average of 66 tons of food per second, despite more than 54 million going hungry in the US every year.
Food is also the number one material in America's landfill sites, accounting for 24.1% of all waste. And that’s alongside all other materials, including plastic, recyclables, and more.
Asia is responsible for more than 50% of global food waste, with some areas being more at fault than others. The main offenders are industrialized and urban areas in China, Japan, and South Korea. These account for 28% of all food waste.
Although much of the food waste ends up in landfills, it doesn’t stop there. A lot of food is incinerated, which only accelerates the drastic environmental impact.
China wastes enough food in an entire year to feed 100 million people. And while households are partially to blame, more food waste occurs before it reaches consumers.
An estimated 30% of all grains produced in China are lost before they reach retailers and, in some cases, before they’re even harvested. A further 40% of vegetables are also thrown away.
In many underdeveloped countries around Southeast Asia and India, food waste typically occurs earlier in the food supply chain — at the farmer-producer stage. This is usually due to inefficient harvesting, poor local transport, and low-quality infrastructure.
In India, 21 million tons of wheat are wasted each year due to inadequate storage and distribution systems. Similarly, rice losses in Southeast Asia can be as much as 80% annually, or 180 million tons worth of waste. This highlights the need for better infrastructure earlier in the food chain in undeveloped countries, but lack of access to these systems is a daily challenge.
Developed countries have better storage, processing, and transporting facilities, including more efficient infrastructure for harvesting and farming — which means losses occur further down the line.
In the UK, up to 30% of all vegetable crops are never harvested due to physical appearance and rejection from retailers. Cultural influences and consumer attitudes are to blame, mainly because consumers are less likely to buy blemished or imperfect ingredients.
Pests have a lot to answer for when it comes to food waste. Insects, birds, rodents, molds, and bacteria are one of the top reasons why we throw food away at the very beginning of the food supply chain.
We lose more than 500 million tons of food every year to crop pests, alongside inadequate harvesting and irrigation.
Although a farmer may harvest a perfectly good crop, food waste still occurs if transport facilities are insufficient. Fruit and vegetables, for example, require specific transportation facilities with temperature control and humidity management to stay fresh and maintain their shelf life. This isn’t possible everywhere.
In hotter regions of the world — especially Africa and India — annual losses of fruit and vegetables range between 30-40% postharvest. Manual harvesting and poor transport that leads to bruising and spoiling are enormous challenges.
Although food is a necessity for us all to survive, that doesn’t mean it’s always considered high-value.
In affluent and well-developed countries, the average family only spends around 11% of their monthly budget on food. This helps to explain why consumers are quick to throw out produce, despite rising prices. It’s simply not seen as high-value enough.
In developed economies, including the US and UK, purchasing policies for fresh food are among the biggest causes of food waste.
Penalties are imposed on retailers who fail to deliver fresh ingredients under purchasing policies, encouraging farmers to grow more than is needed to make up for any rejections. Every year, we lose around 60 million tons or $160 billion worth of food because retailers won’t display it on supermarket shelves.
It’s no surprise that vegetables and fruit top the list with the most waste out of all food categories. Annually, we throw away 644 million tons of fresh fruit and veg.
Cereals are our second most wasted food, accounting for 22% of all food waste, or around 347 million tons. We’re also frequently throwing away roots, dairy, meat, oilseeds and pulses, and fish and seafood.
The largest food producers worldwide are China, India, the US, and Brazil. This comes as no surprise, since these 4 countries also have the largest populations. But producing more food also means more waste.
China alone produces 219 million tons of corn and 205 million tons of rice every year. Yet, China (alongside South Korea and Japan) is responsible for over a third of all food waste worldwide.
Of all food types, wheat, corn, and rice are the most made foods — and these 4 countries are their biggest producers.
We don’t often think about where food ends up when we throw it out, but it has to go somewhere. Food waste is having a massive impact on our planet, and so is food production. As we produce and waste more food every year, we damage our environment even more.
Greenhouse gas emissions are continuously growing, and food waste is only adding to the problem.
Emissions from food waste alone have increased 300% in the last 50 years, with a further 400% growth predicted if our diet and food waste habits don’t change. Food waste accounts for 30% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, meaning it has a huge impact on our planet and nature.
Food waste releases carbon dioxide and is responsible for an estimated 3.3 billion tons of CO2 every year. That equates to a staggering 1,000 tons of CO2 every minute.
Food also releases harmful chemicals as it rots and spoils, including methane. This is 28 times more harmful than carbon monoxide. It’s not only damaging to our planet, but to our animals and us, too.
Global food production takes up a lot of land space. Around 4.9 Gha of the 10 Gha of usable land available is occupied for agricultural purposes.
Although we have become more efficient in recent years at using the available land, growing populations and demand for food mean it’s likely we will need even more. And occupying more land while reducing the impact on the human population and our environment is less likely.
It’s estimated we will need 8.8 Gha by 2050 to meet growing demand, which equates to around 88% of all usable and available land space.
Agriculture is also responsible for excessive water use and wastage. An estimated 3.8 trillion m3 of water is required for human use every year, equivalent to 1.5 billion Olympic-sized swimming pools.
At least 70% of this water is used for food production — whether to grow and harvest food — or as part of the processing stages before consumption. And much of this is wasted.
Our ever-increasing food waste is leading to a loss of our freshwater. Food waste uses 250 km2 of water, and that means our water also goes down the drain. Overall, we’re wasting one-quarter of our global freshwater supply just by losing food.
Our population is set to grow by a further 7 million people by 2075. More people means more food production, which also puts more pressure on our vital resources. That includes water.
To meet the demands of our growing population, it’s estimated that we’ll need 10 to 13.5 trillion m3 of water every year. Most of which will be consumed by agriculture for food production and wasted in excess. That’s around triple what is currently used for human consumption.
Energy is an essential resource, and it’s one that’s used considerably throughout the food production cycle. On average, 7-10 calories of energy is required for every 1 calorie of food, so we’re putting in way more than we’re getting out. And even more so if that’s wasted.
What’s more problematic is the source of this energy. Most of the energy used for food production comes from fossil fuels, which only adds to the ever-growing issue of climate change and global warming.
The single biggest energy input for food production comes from fertilizers. Most of these fertilizers contain vital compounds such as nitrogen and ammonia, which must be sourced from somewhere. That somewhere is the world’s vital resources.
Around 950 m3 of natural gas is required for one ton of ammonia (though many other natural gases are used, too). It’s estimated that fertilizers consume around 3-5% of the world’s total natural gas supply.
Irrigation can dramatically increase food production by making water more readily available to harvest crops, particularly in hot countries. Currently, around 40% of the world’s food supply is produced on irrigated land.
However, many countries have poor or inefficient irrigation systems, creating more food waste before crops are harvested. Alongside wasted produce, the mass of water and energy used to harvest the crops is also lost.
Only a meager percentage of food is composted, with the majority of our food waste ending up in landfills where it spoils and rots.
As consumers, if we all committed to composting any food that we throw out, we could potentially divert 150kg of food waste per household, per year. It would only take 7,000 households to compost 1 million tons worth of food waste.
The majority of food waste ends up in landfills, but the problem is bigger than that. In the US, food takes up more space than any other item in landfills. It actually makes up 22% of all municipal solid waste (MSW).
The amount of food that Americans waste is equivalent to every individual throwing 650 apples straight into landfills.
Much of the 1.3 billion tons of food waste we throw away every year ends up in our oceans, harming our ecosystem.
In fact, around 7 million tons of food waste — including single-use plastics — enters our oceans. The food waste attracts seagulls, which increases the risk of harm to our fish and other species, because the more seagulls there are, the more likely they are to feed. So not only is food waste littering our oceans, but it’s also disrupting the natural balance of our ecosystem.
With food production and waste using up most of our vital resources, this also puts pressure on the animals who share our ecosystem. They inevitably become endangered if they don’t have access to the food and water they need because we’re using it all.
Food waste is having a drastic effect on 10 species in particular, because of our overuse of freshwater, pesticides, greenhouse gas emissions, use of landfills, and growing food production. The 10 most endangered species by food waste are:
California tiger salamander
Seafood is one of the most widely wasted foods, but even more food waste is caused by bycatch. This refers to the fish and other species caught or killed by fishing apparatus in the process of catching something else.
In the US, around 10-12% of what’s caught is bycatch. That equates to 714 million pounds of wasted fish and other species, just as a result of them being caught in the line. Globally, around 40% of the world’s catch is wasted due to bycatch practices.
There’s more than enough food to feed everyone in the world, yet people still go hungry every day. While food waste numbers are growing, so are the number of people who suffer from food insecurity.
Despite the mass of food wasted, people around the world go hungry every day. In fact, food waste only exacerbates food insecurity by stopping others from having access to quality, nutritious food.
Globally, around 795 million people go hungry, and more than 2 million people lack vital micronutrients due to a poor quality diet.
Undernourishment and food insecurity are higher in Africa than in any other region of the world. More than 19% of people in Africa are malnourished and don’t have access to food, which is more than twice the world average of 8.9%.
With the majority of food waste in underdeveloped countries occurring at food production and harvest, many people in Africa don’t even get access to food before it’s wasted. A lack of quality infrastructure and efficient farming practices are a huge part of the problem.
The US is one of the world’s biggest food wasters, but food insecurity is just as big an issue.
Despite 30-40% of America’s food being wasted every year, 54 million people go hungry and don’t have access to food. 18 million of these people are children. And this number has only grown year on year.
While some families have access to too much food, others clearly don’t have enough.
The UK is another country where food insecurity is growing, but thousands still throw away perfectly edible food every day.
Around 8.4 million people in the UK cannot afford to eat, and 4.7 million of these people live in food-insecure homes. In fact, some 46% of people have gone a whole day without having anything to eat. Increasing food prices and excessive food waste are only making matters worse.
Although there are targets to achieve Zero Hunger in the world by 2030, we’re not on track with the way things are going. Increasing food waste and food insecurity are a constant challenge.
It’s estimated that the number of food-insecure people will surpass 840 million by 2030 if things continue without change. That’s a further 45 million people going hungry each year.
Global malnutrition and food insecurity are a growing challenge, and one that’s been made much worse due to the pandemic. Loss of income, in particular, has had a drastic effect on the number of families that can afford nutritious foods — or even a single meal.
A preliminary assessment estimates that COVID-19 may increase food insecurity by a further 80-130 million people. That means an increase of as much as a sixth of the people who are going hungry today.
Nearly a quarter of all children under 5 are stunted, meaning they’re severely malnourished. This can lead to physical and mental effects — and it can affect their life expectancy.
The world has set targets to reduce child stunting and low birth weight by 2025 and 2030. While we are making progress, there is much more to be done. Reducing food waste would give more families greater access to nutritious foods, and is one way in which all consumers can help.
Healthy diets are unaffordable for around 3 billion people in the world. That means nearly half of the world’s population cannot afford to eat well.
Healthy diets are estimated to be around 5 times more expensive than a diet rich in starchy and less nutritious foods. As vegetables and fruit are the most wasted food, more needs to be done to reduce costs and increase access. We’re throwing away expensive, fresh produce that’s perfectly edible.
50. People Are Overweight as Well as Underweight
Food insecurity is growing, but so is obesity. Most countries face the double challenge of having too many people underweight and overweight, while also managing food waste.
Globally, more than half of people are overweight or obese. Actually, there are more people overweight than underweight. This only highlights that we’re buying much more food than we need, and that portion control and overeating are something we all need to pay attention to.
By reducing food waste, we can make moves in the right direction towards solving world hunger. Around a third of the world’s entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste, which is enough to feed 3 billion people.
This would still leave many countries with a calorie surplus, meaning they’d have enough to provide their population with 130% of their nutritional requirements.
Taking a conscientious approach to your weekly grocery shop is one of the biggest ways to reduce food waste.
By creating a meal plan and shopping list, you can reduce food waste by only buying what you need and avoiding buying anything that may end up in the trash later. Not only will this reduce food waste, but also your monthly costs.
53. Reuse and Store Food
Rather than throwing food away, look for easy ways to reuse your meals. If you’ve made too much, you could put spare meals into Tupperware and freeze them for a later time. Freezing food also means they stay fresh, so you won’t need to dispose of it.
You could also give meals to family members or friends — anything that stops you from putting excess food into the trash.
You can help avoid food waste ending up in landfills by composting fresh produce in your own home. All fresh ingredients — especially spoiled fruit and vegetables— can be composted easily. Since these are the single biggest wasted foods, it’s vital to make change wherever you can.
If you’ve made too much food or if you find you have plenty of food left over before your next weekly shop, consider donating your food instead.
There are millions of people that go hungry every day and simply cannot afford food. While you might not want to eat something near its best before date, many others will. Anything you don’t want — and that’s edible — donate.
Remember that many “use by” and “best before” dates are very conservative and have more to do with a retailer’s legal implications than the food’s freshness.
Rather than simply throwing your food away, trust your gut instead. If it looks and smells fine, then chances are it’s completely edible, and you could be wasting perfectly good food for no reason.
Gleaning is another way of donating food to the hungry.
You can help reduce food waste by collecting leftovers or unwanted food from restaurants, grocers, farmers’ markets, farms, or other sources, to save it from being thrown out. You can then give it to a local food bank where the food will be used, not wasted.
One of the biggest reasons we waste food is because we always buy too much. Not only do we overshop, but we overfill our plates with portion sizes that are way too big.
You can cut down food waste by keeping track of your portion sizes and only cooking what you will eat. And if you do make too much, remember to reuse or donate.
Consumers aren’t the only piece in the food waste puzzle. Governments must create food loss and waste measurement protocols so that countries can effectively measure and keep track of exactly what’s wasted — and implement strategies to combat it.
Countries should also create food waste targets to work towards and encourage every consumer to practice daily habits that help reduce food waste. That can be something as simple as sticking to a weekly shopping list and not impulse buying.
The majority of food waste occurs before it reaches our plates. In some cases, before it even reaches our supermarket shelves. Food production is the single biggest cause of food waste, and more needs to be done to tackle it, especially in under-developed countries where lack of efficient infrastructure is a huge challenge.
Funding should be increased to provide countries with access to adequate resources. It would help reduce food waste during the production stages and ensure that what’s grown is eaten.
One of the best ways to decrease food waste is to increase our awareness. Many governments launch consumer awareness campaigns to educate us on food waste and its drastic effects, plus what you can do about it.
We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves too. Read up on food waste in your country, the latest statistics, and how you can help. Think about what you do or don’t do already and implement the necessary changes in your home. Could you compost more food? Could you reduce your portion sizes? Or maybe you could start a weekly meal plan to cut down waste?
Food is something most of us take for granted. It’s easy to nip to your local store and top up on goods you might throw out a few days later, or leave your food to go off in the fridge in favor of takeout. But we don’t always realize the true effects of our actions.
Food waste is a global problem, harming the economy, our planet, and our people. Millions go hungry every day, but there’s more than enough food to go round for everyone — if only we didn’t waste it.
It’s now more important than ever to take steps to reduce food waste wherever you can, and all it takes is something simple like shopping smart or controlling portion sizes. Sure, more needs to be done at food production level, but wherever we can make a difference, we should.