Food Waste is World’s Third-Largest Carbon Emitter

Global food wastage accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than any country except the US and China. For those who speak climate change, that’s 3.3 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.

That finding and many, many more are part of the long-anticipated UN FAO study Food Wastage Footprint (here’s the full study PDF). It’s particularly exciting for me because I helped the FAO frame the research questions and worked on a related information sheet more than a year ago.

A quick semantic note: “Wastage” = Food Loss + Food Waste.*

The study is the first to quantify food wastage’s eco-impact. For example, the study found that the embedded water in global food waste was three times the volume of Lake Geneva, or about two Lake Tahoes. And food wastage represents 22 percent of the total global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. (1.3 Gtonnes/6 Gtonnes).

Equally important, the study identifies the sources of our abundant food wastage. Determining exactly what foods are being squandered where is a real key, as it will help us target those areas.

To wit, Asian rice, North American and Latin American meat are two major “world food wastage hot spots.” Meanwhile, 54 percent of global food wastage happens upstream (production, post-harvest handling and storage) while 46 percent occurs downstream (in processing, distribution and consumption).

The study’s suggested solutions are neither surprising nor groundbreaking, but they are worth repeating: reduce waste, re-use excess to feed people and compost or convert the rest into energy.

Let’s give the last word to the study’s authors:

This food wastage represents a missed opportunity to improve global food security, but also to mitigate environmental impacts and resources use from food chains.

*From the FAO:

Food loss is the unintended reduction in food available for human consumption, resulting from inefficiencies in supply chains: poor infrastructure and logistics or lack of technology, insufficient skills or poor management capacity. It mainly occurs during production or postharvest processing, e.g. when crops go unharvested or produce is thrown out during processing, storage or transport.

Food waste refers to intentional discards of edible items, mainly by retailers and consumers, and is due to the behavior of businesses and individuals.

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