What is food waste?

Food waste is making the news

Whilst plenty of research has been conducted on the issue, there still isn't a clear and consistent approach when it comes to defining or quantifying food waste. So, here are some different interpretations as well as our own take on this.


Definitions

  • “Food loss”: a decrease in quantity and quality of agricultural, forestry and fishery products intended for human consumption that are ultimately not eaten by people. Food losses occur along the supply chain from production, to harvest, post-harvest handling, to storage and processing, and during transportation (FAO, 2017)
  • “Food waste”: food appropriate for human consumption being discarded or left to spoil at consumer level – regardless of the cause (HLPE, 2014)
  • “Food loss and waste”: a decrease at all stages of the food system from production to consumption, in mass and/or quality, of food that was originally intended for human consumption, regardless of the cause (FAO, 2017)

There is simply no right or wrong way to define it, and so to keep things simple we decided to call the entire issue from farm to fork: Food Waste


How much is inedible or unavoidable?

There's no clear answer to this. Unavoidable food derives from food elements that can't be eaten, such as meat bones, egg shells, or pineapple skins (Buchner et al. 2012).

However, there are cultural differences in interpreting if food is edible or not, and there's no clear consensus on how much food waste is actually edible in terms of percentage of food wasted. Most researchers and statisticians therefore decide to include all food wasted (inedible and edible) in their estimations.

In our opinion, all parts of food (simply speaking: the whole food item) require resources along the chain and each part of it may eventually emit damaging side effects when it ends up in landfill. So therefore all food wasted, edible and inedible, becomes an issue for our planet.


How do we quantify it?

We are currently accumulating a huge mountain of waste! 44% of global waste consists of food and greens, of which a significant portion is food waste (World Bank, 2018).

In terms of weight:

  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted (Gustavsson et al., 2011) — approximately 1.6 billion tons (BCG, 2018)
  • That means within a year, we waste around 51 tons every second (BCG, 2018)
  • Food waste will rise by a third by 2030, when 2.1bn tons will either be lost or thrown away, equivalent to 66 tons per second (BCG, 2018)


In terms of kilocalories:

  • At the moment one out of every four food calories intended for people is not ultimately consumed by them (Lipinski et al., 2013)
  • That means an estimated 25% of the world’s food calories are lost or wasted (Lipinski et al., 2013)