Food wastage is a global issue that demands our attention, and each of us can make a difference in reducing it. As consumers, we often throw away excessive amounts of food, and so much of our food supply goes to waste even before it reaches our supermarkets or homes.
There's more to food wastage than the spoiled vegetables in our trash bins. The scale of the problem is staggering. We may wonder about the actual quantity of food we waste and the global cost associated with it. The impact of food waste is significant and reaches far beyond our immediate surroundings.
In this article, we've compiled an extensive collection of 60+ essential statistics on food wastage. It's important to understand the reasons behind our food waste, identify the key culprits, and most importantly, explore the steps we can take to address this issue.
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.
On a global scale, approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption ends up being thrown away. This amounts to an astonishing 1.3 billion tons of food waste every year.
While we certainly contribute to this waste by throwing out a lot of food ourselves, it's important to note that a substantial portion of food wastage occurs even before it reaches our plates.
Factors such as poor harvesting and transportation methods, as well as consumers being selective, play a role in this worldwide issue.
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.
Certain types of food are more prone to being wasted than others, and it's not surprising that fresh ingredients like vegetables and fruits top the list as the main culprits.
When it comes to fruit and vegetable wastage, approximately 20% occurs during the production phase. However, consumers also contribute to an additional 28% of the wastage due to their behaviors and expectations regarding the appearance of these items on store shelves. We often have specific preferences about how our 5-a-day should look, which leads to unnecessary waste.
Seafood is also a significant contributor to food waste, with 11% lost during production. Consumers also play a part in causing an additional 33% of wastage when it comes to seafood.
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 about 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.
According to statistics, people in the 18-24 age group tend to waste more food, showing a contrast in attitudes towards food and food waste as a whole between different generations. In particular, young families and high-income households earning over $100,000 are among the biggest food wasters globally.
While our grandparents grew up in a post-war era with limited food availability and rationing, younger generations in developed countries haven’t shared the same cultural experiences. Factors like social media food influencers and the pursuit of the perfect Instagram-worthy picture, combined with a "live to eat" mindset, have shaped the perspective of younger adults. Consequently, it's not surprising that they may fail to recognize the value of the food on their plates.
The cost of food waste is massive, and much of it could be avoided. Globally, $750 billion is lost each year due to food waste at harvest, during production, and in our homes.
The total cost of food waste is even more alarming at an estimated $1 trillion, and this figure shows no signs of going down. It’s actually set to increase by 33% in the next decade as we continue to waste more and more food.
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.
Some countries have an abundance of food while others don’t have nearly enough. In the United States alone, over 54 million people struggle to afford or access quality, nutritious food, highlighting the pressing issue of food insecurity.
Global hunger remains a significant and growing problem, but it’s not impossible to overcome. With an investment of $30 billion, we could make great progress in overcoming this challenge. Each year, we throw away approximately $750 billion through food waste. This means that we have the potential to address world hunger 25 times over in just a single year if we effectively manage and utilize our food resources.
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 throws away a massive 26,082 tons each day. This makes it one of the biggest food wasters in Europe.
This figure translates to 391 grams of food per person, and in terms of a daily cost, means that the average household is wasting £1.36 worth of food every day.
This waste usually results from the food not having been eaten by the “best before” or “use by” date. These facts serve as a reminder that collectively, we tend to purchase excessive amounts of food, and it's possible that we’re overly cautious when it comes to interpreting food 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.
Every year, Australia throws out 4 million tons of food, which means that the average household wastes 345 kg 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 when it’s still edible. For every 5 bags of grocery shopping, 1 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 wasted 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 1 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 over 50% of the world's food waste, although certain regions within the continent carry a greater responsibility than others. The primary culprits lie in the industrialized and urban areas of China, Japan, and South Korea, accounting for 28% of the total food waste.
Unfortunately, much of the waste ends up in landfills, but it doesn't stop there. A significant portion of the discarded food undergoes incineration, further exacerbating the already severe environmental consequences.
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.
Across Southeast Asia and India, many underdeveloped countries experience the majority of food waste at the early stages of the food supply chain, specifically at the farmer-producer level. This often stems from inefficient harvesting practices, inadequate local transportation, and poor infrastructure.
In India, 21 million tons of wheat go to waste every year due to insufficient storage and distribution systems. Similarly, rice losses in Southeast Asia can reach as much as 80% per year, resulting in 180 million tons of wasted rice. These figures highlight the urgent need for improved infrastructure at the earlier stages of the food chain in underdeveloped countries. However, the lack of access to such systems presents a daily challenge in these regions.
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 some 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.
Even if a farmer successfully harvests a high-quality crop, food waste can still occur if the transportation infrastructure is inadequate. Certain items like fruits and vegetables require specialized transport facilities equipped with temperature control and humidity management to preserve their freshness and extend their shelf life. Unfortunately, such facilities aren’t available everywhere.
In hotter regions of the world such as Africa and India, postharvest losses of fruits and vegetables can range from 30% to 40% annually. Challenges arise from manual harvesting methods and poor transportation systems that result in bruising and spoilage of the produce. These hurdles need to be overcome to reduce food waste in these areas.
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.
Unsurprisingly, the largest food-producing countries globally are China, India, the US, and Brazil. These countries also have the largest populations. However, the correlation between increased food production and higher levels of waste is very clear.
In China, for instance, the annual production of corn reaches a staggering 219 million tons, with rice production reaching 205 million tons. However, it’s worth noting that China, alongside South Korea and Japan, collectively accounts for more than one-third of the world's food waste.
Among various food types, wheat, corn, and rice dominate production, 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 plays a crucial role in the food production cycle, and its consumption is significant. On average, it takes approximately 7-10 calories of energy to produce just 1 calorie of food, so we’re putting in a lot more energy than we’re getting out. This becomes even more concerning when we consider the additional energy wasted in the process.
Adding to the challenge is the source of this energy. The majority of energy used in food production comes from fossil fuels, further adding to the already pressing issues 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 150 kg 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.
Africa faces a higher prevalence of undernourishment and food insecurity compared to any other region in the world. Over 19% of the population in Africa experiences malnutrition and lacks access to sufficient food, which is more than twice the global average of 8.9%.
Unfortunately, a significant portion of food waste in underdeveloped countries, including Africa, occurs at the production and harvest stages. This means that many people in Africa don’t even have the opportunity to access food before it’s wasted. The lack of reliable infrastructure and efficient farming practices are a huge part of this issue, posing significant challenges to addressing food security in the region.
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 solely responsible for addressing food waste. It’s crucial that governments establish protocols for measuring and monitoring food loss and waste, enabling countries to accurately track the extent of wastage and implement effective strategies to combat it.
In addition, countries should set targets for reducing food waste and actively promote these goals. Encouraging individuals to adopt daily habits that contribute to reducing waste is essential. Simple practices such as sticking to a weekly shopping list and avoiding impulse purchases can make a significant difference in minimizing food waste.
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. You may be able to compost more food, reduce your portion sizes, or start a weekly meal plan to cut down waste.
Many of us take food for granted. It's convenient to pop into a local store and buy groceries that may end up being thrown out a few days later. Alternatively, takeout can be more appealing than cooking after a long day at work. Unfortunately, we often fail to grasp the true impact of our actions.
Food waste poses a global problem, causing harm to the economy, our planet, and our people. Millions of people suffer from hunger every day, while there’s more than enough food available for everyone if we didn't waste it.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to take proactive measures to reduce food waste in any way possible. Simple actions like shopping wisely and controlling portion sizes can make a significant difference. While addressing food waste at the production level is essential, we should grab every opportunity to contribute and make a positive impact wherever we can.