Food waste remains a major issue in Europe and at global level. 

Over 930 million tonnes of food sold to households, retailers, restaurants and other food services are thrown away every year, according to the latest estimates – and that is beyond food that is lost during production and distribution.

Despite mounting pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of diets, “if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world, causing more greenhouse gases than any single [country] in the world except China and the US”.

Today (Wednesday, September 29) is International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Speaking on the event, director general of the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) Dr. Laura Fernandez Celemin said food waste is a “growing problem we need to tackle urgently across the food supply chain; throwing away food spoils valuable resources, causes excess carbon dioxide emissions intensifying the climate crisis, while putting a further strain on food security”.

“To get a grip on food waste, we must involve all actors that can bring change, from farmers to retailers, national governments, multilateral institutions, NGOs, as well as citizens.”

According to a recent report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Tesco called ‘Driven to Waste’, “1.2 billion tonnes of food is lost on farms each year” – which is enough to feed the world’s 870 million undernourished four times over.

Food loss and food waste

Food loss, as reported by the FAO in the Food Loss Index, occurs from post-harvest up to, but not including, the retail level.

Food waste refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers. Food is wasted in many ways:

  • Fresh produce that deviates from what is considered optimal, for example in terms of shape, size and colour, is often removed from the supply chain during sorting operations;
  • Foods that are close to, at or beyond the ‘best before’ date are often discarded by retailers and consumers;
  • Large quantities of wholesome edible food are often unused or left over and discarded from household kitchens and eating establishments.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in Ireland, we waste about one million tonnes of food each year.

“Growing, processing and transporting food uses a huge amount of resources, such as land, water, energy and fertiliser. If food is wasted, these resources are wasted too,” the EPA said.

The amount of food wasted in Ireland represents a carbon footprint as high as 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. It is estimated that food waste generates about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.