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Reduced Food Waste

This is the back end of a processing plant for vegetables in Burscough, Lancashire, UK. If you wonder why you have never seen a crooked carrot in your local market, commercial or natural, this is why. Vegetables are ruthlessly sorted to conform to “quality standards” set by the food chain, and this is the result. Some is carted off to piggeries, some as you can see is already rotting in the water.

A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.

Losing food to one waste heap or another is an issue in both high- and low-income countries. In places where income is low, wastage is generally unintentional and occurs earlier in the supply chain—food rots on farms or spoils during storage or distribution. In regions of higher income, willful food waste dominates farther along the supply chain. Retailers and consumers reject food based on bumps, bruises, and coloring, or simply order, buy, and serve too much.

There are numerous and varied ways to address key waste points. In lower-income countries, improving infrastructure for storage, processing, and transportation is essential. In higher-income regions, major interventions are needed at the retail and consumer levels. National food-waste targets and policies can encourage widespread change. Beyond addressing emissions, these efforts can also help to meet future food demand.


labor force [in] production of food: Prakash, A., and M. Stigler. FAO Statistical Yearbook. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2012.

a third of…food [is wasted]: FAO. Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes, and Prevention, Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011.

Hunger [afflicts] 800 million people: FAO. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015.

food…waste…emissions: FAO. Food Wastage Footprint: Full-Cost Accounting, Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2014.

Ranked with countries…third-largest emitter: FAO, Food Wastage.

Sustainable Development Goals [for] food waste: United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

labeling on food packages…unregulated: FAO. Toolkit: Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013.

Feeding the 5000: Royte, Elizabeth. “This Free Feast for 5,000 Was Made from Food Waste.” National Geographic. May 10, 2016.

United States…food-waste target: Aubrey, Allison. “It’s Time to Get Serious About Reducing Food Waste, Feds Say.” National Public Radio. September 16, 2015.

France passed a [food waste] law: Chrisafis, Angelique. “French Law Forbids Food Waste by Supermarkets.” The Guardian. February 4, 2016.

Italy followed suit: Kirchgaessner, Stephanie. “Italy Tackles Food Waste with Law Encouraging Firms to Donate Food.” The Guardian. August 3, 2016.

where food waste is greatest: FAO, Food Wastage.

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p. 42

Correction: Ranked with countries, food waste would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, just behind the United States and China.

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