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One billion meals wasted every day around the world, according to the UN

  • March 27, 2024
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Households needlessly threw away the equivalent of a billion meals every day around the world in 2022, according to estimates from the UN, which denounced on Wednesday the “global tragedy” of food waste.

This estimate of edible but discarded food is at the low end of the range, and “the actual amount could be much higher”, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Food Waste Index report .

“Food waste is a global tragedy. Millions of people will go hungry today around the world as food is thrown away,” lamented Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

“It’s simply astonishing,” responded to AFP Richard Swannell, of the NGO WRAP, who participated in writing the report.

“We could feed all the people who suffer from hunger in the world – there are around 800 million – with one meal a day, just with the food that is wasted,” he emphasizes.

Households represented 60% of this waste, or 631 million tonnes worldwide in 2022 out of more than a billion in total. Catering services (canteens, restaurants, etc.) accounted for 28% and supermarkets, butchers and grocery stores of all kinds for 12%.

That’s the equivalent of more than $1 trillion a year thrown away unnecessarily, according to estimates.

This report, the second published by the UN on the subject, provides the most comprehensive overview to date. And the scale of the problem has become clearer as data collection has improved.

“The more we look for food waste, the more we find,” underlines Clementine O’Connor, from UNEP.

“Opportunity”

Much of the waste that takes place at home is linked to people buying more than they really need, misjudging portion sizes and not eating leftovers, according to Richard Swannell.

One billion meals wasted every day around the world, according to the UN

Children search for food in a trash can on October 9, 2011 in Koungou, Mayotte / RICHARD BOUHET / AFP/Archives

Consumers also throw away perfectly edible products whose expiration date has passed.

Much food is also lost for reasons other than simple neglect, particularly in developing countries, for example due to refrigeration problems.

But contrary to popular belief, waste is not only “a problem of rich countries” and can be observed across the world.

On the business side, it is currently often cheaper to simply throw away food than to find a more sustainable alternative.

“It’s faster and easier because the taxes on waste are zero or very low,” denounces Clementine O’Connor.

This waste, which concerns almost a fifth of the food available, is synonymous with “environmental failure”, point out the authors of the report: it generates up to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world and requires huge farmlands to grow crops that will never be eaten.

If it were a country, “it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the United States and China,” notes Richard Swannell. “Yet people don’t think much about it.”

“We hope that this report highlights the opportunity for each of us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and save money, simply by making better use of the food we already buy,” concludes -he.