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By the Numbers: Reducing Food Loss and Waste

This post is the second installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the 2013-2014 World Resources Report. Look for the next installment tomorrow, which will highlight a number of solutions to reduce food loss and waste.

The world produces about 4 billion tons of food per year, or about 6 quadrillion calories. That’s a large amount, but what’s really shocking is that nearly one-quarter of these calories go uneaten.

This food is lost or wasted in a number of ways. It might rot in the fields, get eaten by pests in storage, or be thrown away by a grocer or consumer, just to name a few. It’s a problem that must be mitigated: The world will need about 60 percent more calories per year by 2050 in order to adequately feed the projected population of more than 9 billion people. WRI’s new working paper, Reducing Food Loss and Waste, shows that cutting current rates of food loss and waste in half would reduce the size of this food gap by about 22 percent.

The new paper, part of the ongoing 2013-2014 World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future working paper series, looks at the scale of the food loss and waste challenge and examines how we as a global community can start tackling this issue. The paper and tomorrow’s blog post explore a number of practical, affordable strategies for governments, businesses, and households to reduce their loss and waste immediately.

But first, it’s important to understand the extent of the problem. Here are several facts and figures that reveal just how much food the world loses and wastes:

How Much Food Is Lost or Wasted?

  • 24 percent: The global share of all produced food that is lost or wasted annually, when measured by calories

  • 53 percent: The amount of all food lost or wasted that is comprised of cereals, such as wheat, maize, and rice

  • 1,520: The per capita amount of calories lost or wasted each day in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand

  • 64 percent: The share of loss or waste in the developing world that occurs before the food is even processed or sent to market

  • 51 percent: The share of loss or waste in the developed world that occurs at the restaurant, caterer, or household level

What Are the Impacts of this Loss and Waste?

  • $1,600: The annual amount the average American family of four spends on food that doesn’t get eaten

  • $4 billion: The value of all the food lost in sub-Saharan Africa each year, where many farmers live on less than $2 a day

  • $32 billion: The value of all the food lost or wasted in China each year

  • 3,300-5,600: Megatonnes of greenhouse gases associated with producing food that is ultimately lost or wasted. The upper end of this range is roughly equivalent to U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption in 2011

  • 198 million: The number of hectares used to produce food that is lost or wasted each year. This is about the size of Mexico

  • 173 billion: Cubic meters of water used to grow lost or wasted food. This represents 24 percent of all water used for agriculture

What Are the Benefits of Saving Food?

These numbers show the complexity and severity of food loss and waste. This problem is an economic issue, a natural resource issue, and a human well-being issue. Saving more food, then, is an imperative piece of creating a sustainable food future by 2050.

Now that the size and stakes surrounding food loss and waste are clearer, be sure to check back tomorrow for a look at how we can start reducing food loss and waste.

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