Food waste

Food waste: the current situation

by SIAL Paris

50% of all food products in the United States end up being thrown away. This shock revelation was made in a report published in July 2016 by the Guardian magazine. Three months earlier, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) had estimated the total amount of food products destroyed or wasted in France to be 10 million tonnes, equivalent to a value of 16 billion euros and a carbon footprint representing 3% of the country's emissions. It can safely be said that food waste remains one of the major problems of our time. What are its causes? What is the real effect of all this waste on our societies? An examination of the current situation with SIAL.

Taking a “snapshot” of the causes of food waste

According to the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “food waste” means “any food suitable for human consumption thrown away before or after its expiry date, or thrown away because it has been damaged”.

In 2011, the FAO estimated in its report that one third of world food production intended for human consumption was destroyed or wasted, equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year. Consumers in industrialised countries alone represented 222 million tonnes of wasted food, equivalent to almost the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).

There many causes of food waste. The waste begins between the field and the dining plate: according to Vaclav Smil, only 43% of products cultivated for food purposes actually reach the consumer. Many reports concerning food waste hold consumers themselves responsible. In 2010, a study published by the European Commission revealed that, out of 89 million tonnes of food waste generated annually within the European Union, 42% came from domestic households, 39% from the food industry, 14% from restaurants and 5% from the wholesale and retail sectors. In the United States, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found in 2012 that 43% of food waste arose as a result of domestic consumption, compared with 40% due to commercial distribution and the restaurant sector; 16% during the production phase, and 2% during the processing phase. To get an accurate picture of the causes of food waste today, an infographic produced by the FAO summarises all the essential information.


Numbers with serious negative socio-economic implications

First and foremost, food waste represents a considerable waste in terms of energy. According to a study published by the journal Environmental Science and Technology, wasting 45% of food products in a country like the United States is equivalent to wasting 5% of the country's total energy, as it will have been used all the way through the food production chain. The environmental impact is not insignificant either, since 30% of the world’s CO2 emissions are caused by food production. According to the FAO, food waste is equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere every year. Finally, from an economic viewpoint, the cost of food waste is astronomical: in Europe, it costs 143 billion euros every year, including 16 billion euros for France.

Today, initiatives are being taken to reduce food waste at both a national and international level. In this respect, the “Zero Hunger” Challenge launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon requires action by all: governments, companies, NGOs, and consumers alike.

Its objective? To achieve zero loss or waste of food, with a view to eradicating hunger throughout the world.