As the world marks the second International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste, the United Nations is calling for stronger action to end the culture of throwing out food uneaten and in so doing, help to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution.
The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Food Waste Index earlier this year showed the huge scale of food waste across the globe. In 2019, 931 million tonnes of food sold to households, retailers, restaurants, and other food services was wasted.
An estimated 17 per cent of food available to consumers in markets, households, restaurants, goes directly into the bin and 60 per cent of that waste is in the home. Moreover, the data shows that consumer food waste is truly a global problem, significant in almost every country that has measured it.
Research by the Food and Agriculture Organization, meanwhile, has found that approximately 14 per cent of the food produced for consumption globally each year is lost between harvest and the wholesale market.
“Food loss and waste account for up to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. They use up precious land and water resources for, essentially, nothing,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Putting a serious dent in food loss and waste will slow climate change, protect nature and increase food security – at a time when we desperately need these things to happen.”
“We all have a role to reduce food waste in our own lives and workplaces,” she added. “Yes, the burden of food waste and loss is heavy. But if we all get our shoulders beneath this burden, we can shift it.”
“We need to accelerate progress in achieving SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) target 12.3 by 2030 to halve global food waste and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said, warning that we only have “nine (harvest) seasons remaining to do so.”
With up to 811 million people affected by hunger in 2020, a number that rose with COVID-19, and three billion people unable to afford a healthy diet, collaborative global action to cut food loss and waste is essential.
With this in mind, UNEP helped to launch the ‘Food is Never Waste’ Coalition at the UN Food Systems Summit last week. With commitments from 12 Member States and counting, the C40 Cities Group and a diverse group of stakeholders, the Coalition is connecting the dots between food waste, hunger and the triple planetary crisis and aims to scale up global efforts.
UNEP is also facilitating Food Waste Working Groups in Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West Asia, supporting 25 countries in measuring baselines and developing national food waste prevention strategies.
One of the key measures to reduce food loss is the expansion of sustainable cold chains. These cold chains are critical to reduce food loss and poverty and meet the hunger gap while also contributing to economic development.
As highlighted by the recently launched ‘Status of the Global Food Cold-Chain Briefing’, meeting this challenge will require robust, systems-level thinking to promote integrated approaches that promote connectivity in the ‘chain’ from farm to fork
Efforts like the Cool Coalition and the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold-Chain (ACES), led by UNEP, can accelerate the uptake of sustainable cold chain solutions in the agriculture and health sectors, throughout Africa and beyond.