Global food waste is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any country except for China and the U.S., according to a new report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The report, Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources, estimates that about one-third of all food—1.3 billion tons—is wasted every year.
Of course, the production of this food requires energy, water, chemicals and land. This means that almost 30 percent of the world’s farmland is entirely wasted—1.4 billion hectares of land per year in total—as well as 250 cubic kilometers of water, the equivalent of the annual discharge of the River Volga in Europe. According to the report, the carbon footprint of wasted food is about 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year—more than any country, aside from China and the U.S. The wasted food costs approximately $750 billion a year.
The food wastage problem is a complicated one. In developed countries, most of the waste comes from consumers buying too much food and throwing away what they don’t eat. In less developed countries, food waste often comes from inefficient farming and inadequate storage facilities.
The report makes several suggestions about how to reduce food waste. First, improved communication between producers and consumers could result in more efficient supply chains. Better harvesting, packaging and shipping methods could also help to reduce food waste.
While these improvements can certainly make a difference, the solution—at least for the industrialized world—ultimately lies with individuals. We must develop a greater awareness about the foods that we consume, the effect that those foods have on the environment and the amount that we are needlessly wasting. We must actively seek to eat more sustainable foods and make an effort to buy and consume only what we need.
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