About 24 percent of all calories currently produced for human consumption are lost or wasted. This paper examines the implications of this amount of loss and waste, profiles a number of approaches for reducing it, and puts forth five recommendations for how to move forward on this issue. "Reducing Food Loss and Waste" is the second installment in the series that forms the foundation of the “World Resources Report 2013-14: Creating a Sustainable Food Future.”

Executive Summary

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 32 percent of all food produced in the world was lost or wasted in 2009. This estimate is based on weight. When converted into calories, global food loss and waste amounts to approximately 24 percent of all food produced. Essentially, one out of every four food calories intended for people is not ultimately consumed by them.

Food loss and waste have many negative economic and environmental impacts. Economically, they represent a wasted investment that can reduce farmers’ incomes and increase consumers’ expenses. Environmentally, food loss and waste inflict a host of impacts, including unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and inefficiently used water and land, which in turn can lead to diminished natural ecosystems and the services they provide.

Big inefficiencies suggest big savings opportunities. We estimate that if the current rate of food loss and waste were cut in half―from 24 percent to 12 percent―by the year 2050, the world would need about 1,314 trillion kilocalories (kcal) less food per year than it would in the business-as-usual global food requirements scenario described in The Great Balancing Act, the first installment of this World Resources Report working paper series. That savings--1,314 trillion kcal--is roughly 22 percent of the 6,000 trillion kcal per year gap between food available today and that needed in 2050. Thus, reducing food loss and waste could be one of the leading global strategies for achieving a sustainable food future.

In this paper, we profile a subset of approaches to reducing food loss and waste that experts suggest are particularly practical and cost-effective, that could be implemented relatively quickly, and that could achieve quick gains. We also recommend a number of cross-cutting strategies to further galvanize commitment to reducing food loss and waste.

Reducing Food Loss and Waste is the second in a series of working papers that we’ll roll out over the course of a year. Each subsequent paper will take a detailed look at a potential solution that could help achieve a sustainable food future. These installments will set the foundation for and culminate in the World Resources Report 2013-2014: Creating a Sustainable Food Future. To learn more about the series and sign up to receive updates, visit the World Resources Report website.