One billion meals go waste daily – UNEP report

In 2022, households worldwide wasted more than one billion meals daily, even as 783 million people experienced hunger, and a third of the global population grappled with food insecurity. These are key findings from the UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2024, released Wednesday ahead of the International Day of Zero Waste.

The report produced in collaboration with a climate action Non-Governmental Organisation, WRAP, presents the most precise global assessment of food waste occurring at both retail and consumer levels. Offering insights into enhancing data collection methodologies, the report also recommends best approaches for transitioning from mere measurement to effective reduction of food waste.

As per the report's findings, a staggering 1.05 billion tonnes of food waste inclusive of inedible portions were generated in 2022. This equates to 132 kilograms per capita and nearly one-fifth of all food accessible to consumers.

Scientists say the food waste crisis remains a bigger challenge to the global economy and exacerbates climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental pollution.

“Out of the total food wasted in 2022, 60 per cent happened at the household level, with food services responsible for 28 per cent and retail 12 per cent,” the report said.

Executive Director of UNEP Inger Andersen lamented that food waste is a global tragedy with dire consequences, adding that millions of people will endure hunger today while food is needlessly squandered worldwide.

Madam Andersen emphasised that the issue is not only a significant developmental challenge but also exacts a hefty toll on the climate and nature, underscoring the urgent need for action.

“The good news is we know if countries prioritise this issue, they can significantly reverse food loss and waste, reduce climate impacts and economic losses, and accelerate progress on global goals,” she said.

The report highlighted a notable improvement in the data infrastructure for tracking food waste since 2021, with an increase in studies monitoring this issue globally. Despite this progress, the report said, there remains a significant gap in low- and middle-income countries, where adequate systems for tracking progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 12.3—aiming to halve food waste by 2030—are lacking, particularly in the retail and food services sectors.

As a practical resource, the report guides countries on consistently measuring and reporting food waste. However, it points out that only four G20 countries including Australia, Japan, UK, USA along with the European Union have food waste estimates suitable for monitoring progress towards the 2030 target. Canada and Saudi Arabia possess suitable household estimates, while Brazil's estimate is expected by late 2024.

Harriet Lamb, CEO of WRAP, underscored the immense environmental, societal, and economic toll inflicted by food waste. Harriet emphasised the necessity for enhanced coordination across continents and supply chains to address this pressing issue.

She expressed WRAP's support for UNEP's initiative in urging more G20 countries to measure food waste and actively strive towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

“This is critical to ensuring food feeds people, not landfills. Public-Private Partnerships are one key tool delivering results today, but they require support: whether philanthropic, business, or governmental, actors must rally behind programmes addressing the enormous impact wasting food has on food security, our climate, and our wallets.”

Recent data reveals that food loss and waste contribute to 8 to 10 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a figure nearly five times higher than that of the aviation sector. This phenomenon leads to significant biodiversity loss, with food loss and waste occupying nearly a third of the world's agricultural land. The economic impact of both food loss and waste is staggering, estimated at approximately $1 trillion.

UNEP announced its commitment to continue monitoring country-level progress in halving food waste by 2030, with an increasing emphasis on moving beyond measurement towards concrete reduction efforts. One key solution highlighted is the implementation of systemic action through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

These partnerships involve collaboration between the public sector, private sector, and non-governmental organizations to collectively address food waste challenges. By working together, identifying bottlenecks, co-developing solutions, and driving progress, PPPs can play a crucial role in achieving meaningful reductions in food waste.

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