Food Waste

Overview

40%

Percentage of food produced globally that is lost or wasted

We 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 a growing population, we will need to increase both agricultural productivity and efficiency, as well as reduce food waste.

Worldwide, humans waste 40% of all food we produce. The food we lose on farms alone could feed the world’s undernourished population almost four times over. Wasted food represents roughly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions (nearly four times larger than the global airline industry’s), and is a main driver of the loss of forests, grasslands, and other critical wildlife habitats—while also depleting our freshwater supply.

Reducing food waste is a huge challenge, but also an opportunity. WWF is bringing people together from the hospitality industry, retail, and food services sectors, as well as schools and farms, to explore how to measure and reduce waste from field to table.

If you or your business are interested in new, innovative approaches to reducing food loss and waste, ReFED’s Insights Engine is a great resource for all of us to learn from each other and contribute to cutting food loss and waste in the US in half by 2030.

We’re losing 40% of the food we produce. Here’s how to stop food waste.

Today, 40% of food grown never gets eaten—1 billion more tonnes (1.1 billion tons) of food than previously estimated. The causes of food waste are complex in any region. Luckily, there are solutions.

A man stands on the back of a blue tractor that's hauling harvested sugarcane

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.

  • Raising livestock requires 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. The total area of land used to produce food that was lost or wasted on farms globally equates to nearly 1.7 million square miles—an area larger than the Indian subcontinent. This impacts the natural habitat of many wild animals, the freshwater we share with them, and the global climate.

  • Around the world, people are facing more extreme weather linked to climate change and food waste is a significant contributor 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. In the US, around 28% of waste happens in consumer-facing businesses like grocery stores and restaurants, while a whopping 37% of waste happens in our homes.

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

What WWF Is Doing

WWF believes measurement, data, and understanding the drivers behind food waste will help inform and drive action. We work across the following areas with the most potential to scale food loss and waste reduction:

Opportunities to Partner with WWF on Food Loss and Food Waste

All of WWF's food loss and waste projects are viewed through the lens of addressing larger systemic food inequities experienced by communities that face barriers, such as immigrants, people of color, and Indigenous peoples. Our aim is to ensure that our projects maximize food use, advance circular systems, contribute to little to no land conversion, and engage in practices that elevate diversity, equity, and inclusion. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with diverse actors on this work, and if you are interested in getting in touch, please email [email protected]. See the current list of opportunities to partner with us here.

Farms

A close up of someone holding a handful of green tomatoes on the vine

An estimated 10 million tons of specialty crops grown on farms each year never gets harvested or makes it past the farm gate—about a third of what’s grown. This loss happens because of labor shortages, cosmetic imperfections, weather events, and more, and it makes up about 16% of total US food loss and waste. WWF wants to know more about how this loss differs between various crops and understand the drivers. Through data-driven research and human-centered design, we hope to help overcome some of the barriers and challenges of getting more of this food to people.

Grocery Retail

A woman with a beige tote bag walks through the produce section of a grocery store

WWF is partnering with food retailers to make transformational commitments to implement food waste reduction across their supply chains, publish annual findings on waste generation and diversion, and explore new innovations and delivery options that reduce overstocking in stores. We also aim to help customers avoid food waste in the home. WWF is currently working with businesses and governments in the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment—a regional public/private partnership focused on halving food waste on the west coast of North America by 2030.

Schools

School girl holding food tray in school cafeteria

WWF is working with students and teachers, grades K-12, to share the value of food and develop strategies to reduce waste. Schools can use their cafeteria as a classroom to conduct food waste audits and understand the connection between their food, wildlife, and habitat conservation. We aim to promote more sustainable and economical food service strategies in schools, in an effort to build a culture of respect for food and help students forge lifelong stewardship habits. Learn more about how your students or school can become Food Waste Warriors.

Hospitality and Food Service

People use tongs to take food from catering trays in a hotel

WWF serves as a coordinator of the global hospitality and food service sectors on the topic of food waste, supporting initiatives and tool development through strategic partnerships. Hotel Kitchen is WWF's hub of operational guidance for hotel properties addressing food waste, providing tools and step-by-step guidance for executives, chefs, managers, and staff to measure and manage waste. WWF supports restaurants and food service businesses to address food waste, collaborating with large food service and catering companies on initiative strategy and implementation. WWF's hub of guidance called 86 Food Waste was developed for US restaurant operators applicable to diverse restaurant concepts.

Policy

Bright wheat in front of a very blue sky

WWF is partnering with a coalition of non-governmental organizations to develop a comprehensive food loss and waste policy action plan that will help the US meet its goal of halving food waste by 2030, while also working to build a more regenerative and resilient food system, mitigate climate change, and reverse nature loss.

Experts