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Food Waste

Overview

We now produce enough food for everyone on the planet today. But we’re losing millions of acres of native grassland in the US to agriculture in areas like the Northern Great Plains. Producing enough food while limiting our impact on the environment is one of the biggest challenges of our time.

That is why an effective food strategy must address the issue of food loss and waste. In order to meet global food security needs, as well as the food demands of an increasingly affluent global population, we will need to both increase productivity and efficiency as well as reduce food waste.

Worldwide, humans waste one of every three food calories produced. These wasted calories are enough to feed three billion people—10 times the population of the United States, more than twice that of China, and more than three times the total number of malnourished globally. Wasted food may represent as much as 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is a main contributor to deforestation and the depletion of global water sources.

This makes reducing waste a huge opportunity. WWF is now bringing people together from the hospitality, retail, and food services sectors—among others—to explore how to measure and reduce waste from farm to table.

food waste

45%

About 45% of all fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers are wasted

Fight climate change by preventing food waste

One-third of all the food produced goes to waste. Food waste is both a humanitarian concern and drives climate change. Here are some tips to prevent food waste. 

Avocados and bananas for sale

Why It Matters

  • Every living creature depends on healthy and abundant fresh water for survival. But each year, more than 66 trillion gallons of water go toward producing food that’s lost or wasted. We can change this by producing and eating only the food we need.

  • Livestock require a lot of land and water in many of the most sensitive ecosystems around the world—from the Northern Great Plains of the United States to the savannahs of southern Africa. Yet about 20% of these products are wasted, which means we’re wasting one-fifth of the land and water used to produce them.

  • Fruits and vegetables are great sources of nutrition, yet they’re also among the most wasted foods. About 45% of all fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers are wasted, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That’s the equivalent of 3.7 trillion apples and 1 billion bags of potatoes.

  • By building an efficient food system that reduces waste, we can help save the land, water, and energy upon which people and wildlife depend. More than 5.4 million square miles of land—an expanse greater than the US, India, and Mexico combined—is used to produce food that’s wasted. This impacts the natural habitat of many wild animals, the fresh water we share with them, and the global climate.

  • Around the world, people are facing more extreme weather linked to climate change. Food waste contributes to this threat. Food sent to landfills produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that impacts our climate. Each year, wasted food emits more than 3.3 billion tons of these gases.

  • A smooth and functional supply chain that brings food from farms to our tables is necessary to feed the world. Yet, right now, we lose and waste food at every link in this chain. Developing countries tend to lose more food on farms and in transportation where roads and refrigeration are lacking. In developed countries, we waste food more often in grocery stores, restaurants, and our own homes.

  • Food brings family and friends together in all parts of the globe. We need to think about our choices in restaurants and grocery stores and at home to ensure these gatherings are also good for the environment.

What WWF Is Doing

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Markets Institute

As part of WWF’s Markets Institute, the food waste program is working to convene key stakeholders across hospitality, retail, and food services sectors to understand how to accelerate the adoption of strategies to measure and reduce food waste. We are also promoting data transparency, which will allow companies to benchmark food waste prevention performance with their peers and across industries.

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WWF is building on the success of its ongoing work with market leaders to increase adoption of food waste reduction programs. Our initial focus is measurement and setting baselines: we must first know how well companies are reducing food waste today before we can determine what success looks like tomorrow.

One example is our work with Hilton Worldwide, where we are developing measurement procedures to track food waste generated from hotel properties. As hotel staff become more aware of food waste and measure it on a daily or weekly basis, they become better equipped to prevent it from occurring.

Research has shown that preventing food waste has significant environmental benefits while also typically reducing food costs. Though prevention is our primary goal, we are also working with companies to ensure that unavoidable food waste is disposed of in the most environmentally beneficial manner and that edible surplus food goes to feed the hungry.

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Together with the School Cafeteria Discards Assessment Project (SCrAP), WWF is working with schools to start grade-level appropriate student food waste audits to understand the connection between their food choices and wildlife and habitat conservation. Schools have a unique opportunity to use the cafeteria as a classroom where students are directly involved in measuring the amount of wasted food from their trays and from daily food service. Learn more about SCrAP and how to get your school involved (opens on erefdn.org).