Global Food Waste | 4 mins read

The Global Problem with Food Waste

the global problem with food waste
Dakota Sheetz

By Dakota Sheetz

The Global Impact of Food Waste

It's disheartening to know that globally, over 1.3 billion tons of food goes to waste every year. This equates to around one third of all food produced for us to eat.

Food wastage is not only costing us $2.6 trillion annually, but it's food that could have fed the 815 million hungry people in the world four times over.

Food Waste vs. Food Loss

It's important to note that food waste and food loss are not the same things, although they affect us in the same way. Food loss is when food is lost early on in its production, such as during harvest, storage, or transportation.

Food wastage, or wasted food, on the other hand, is when food that is still fit for human consumption is thrown away by consumers or supermarkets.

An example of food waste is when a restaurant worker throws out a bunch of bananas because they are bruised. The food is still fit for consumption, but it's not aesthetically pleasing.

How Food Loss Affects Third World and Low-Income Countries

While restaurant wastage, such as buffets and large serving sizes, is a significant cause of food wastage, food loss happens in other ways, as well. It can also have a substantial impact on the third world and low-income countries.

In Africa alone, around 40% of food is lost during harvest from pests, insects, and mold. But there's also more to the story.

Due to harvesting technology limitations in some low-income countries, poor yields and damaged produce are a genuine reality. In these situations, the crops are discarded or sold as animal feed.

Poor Infrastructure
Not having the appropriate storage facilities for food can result in the wastage of fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, and fish, that is no longer safe for human consumption.

This makes it difficult to develop real sustainable development goals toward eliminating food wastage since the problem is challenging to address.

Cold Storage Failures
Any produce that is exposed to the hot sun during transit can be at risk of being wasted. That's the reality for many producing countries, such as Bangladesh and India.

In Bangladesh, milk being transported by rickshaw to processing plants in the hot sun can mean it's not fit for human consumption.

Studies carried out at the University of Birmingham found that due to a lack of a sustainable cold chain, around 4.4 billion GBP of fruit and vegetables was being wasted in India annually.

Causes of Food Waste Around the Globe

Global food loss and food waste is a multi-faceted problem with several causes. It can happen throughout the chain from harvester to retailer, which is what makes it such an expensive and far-reaching issue.

Weather Conditions
The weather plays a huge part in food wastage and food loss, but in more ways, than you think. Adverse weather conditions can damage crops before harvesting takes place. However, if the weather is too favorable, it can result in a surplus of produce that is far more than a farmer and supply chain can handle.

High Aesthetic Standards
Many restaurant owners will recall at least one occasion where they threw away a piece of fruit or a vegetable because it wasn't aesthetically pleasing. It happens more than you think. Many imperfect pieces of fruit and vegetables don't even make it to the truck, let alone the consumer.

Serving Sizes
In restaurants, large serving sizes can lead to food waste. Restaurant owners can look to reduce this problem by offering several serving style options. However, significant wastage can also arise from buffet-style eateries.

Too Many Choices
It's shocking to realize that the average American will throw around 20 pounds of food every month. Having too many choices both in supermarkets and at home can contribute to such a high volume of wastage. The variety of brands means that food can sit on the shelf for longer, reach its best-by date, and be thrown away.


With trillions of dollars of global food wastage annually, change is necessary. A third of all food produced annually is lost or wasted. Low-income countries are more likely to lose food during production, while developed countries waste it once it has been purchased.

  • Restaurants can make changes by making use of imperfect produce and adjusting serving sizes.
  • Improvements in technology and infrastructure could prevent wastage at the production level.
  • Getting creative with aesthetically imperfect produce can see it put to good use.
  • Investment in pest protection could stop billions of dollars of produce going to waste annually.