UN Report Shows That, Globally, More Than 1 Billion Meals Go to Waste Each Day

People across the world wasted more than 1 billion meals a day in 2022. That’s according to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

The recently released UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2024 shows that nearly 1.16 billion tons of food went to waste in 2022, which accounts for about 20% of all food produced for consumption. An estimated 60% occurred at the household level, 28% in food services, and 12% in retail. This came as 783 million people experienced hunger and a third of the world’s population dealt with food insecurity.

Woman tosses leftover meal in the trash

The waste was found across countries of all income levels, as well. The report notes that average food waste rates differed by only 15 pounds per capita across high, upper-middle, and lower-middle income countries. There were higher rates in warmer countries, though, which may have to do with more fresh food being consumed, which often has more inedible parts, and a lack of strong temperature control across food chains.

The UNEP says that this issue has impacts on our planet’s health, as food waste has been found to be responsible for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, and nearly a third of agricultural land was used for food that ended up going to waste. It hits nations’ pocketbooks, too, with losses adding up to about $1 trillion.

Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, says, “Food waste is a global tragedy. Millions will go hungry today as food is wasted across the world. Not only is this a major development issue, but the impacts of such unnecessary waste are causing substantial costs to the climate and nature. The good news is we know if countries prioritise this issue, they can significantly reverse food loss and waste, reduce climate impacts and economic losses, and accelerate progress on global goals.”

Pile of wasted produce

This may be tricky because in 2022, only 21 countries had included food waste reduction in their national climate plans. UNEP says that this report shows the need to do so, however, and that countries that have such plans have shown reductions.

The report notes that there’s another snag in a global goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030: Data and projections are hard to come by because many low- and middle-income countries lack tracking systems for it, particularly within food services and retail. However, UNEP believes public-private partnerships can help, by identifying bottlenecks and developing solutions as a group. There is the need for appropriate funding, though.

Harriet Lamb, CEO of WRAP, which co-authored the report, says, “With the huge cost to the environment, society, and global economies caused by food waste, we need greater coordinated action across continents and supply chains. We support UNEP in calling for more G20 countries to measure food waste and work towards SDG12.3. This is critical to ensuring food feeds people, not landfills. Public-Private Partnerships are one key tool delivering results today, but they require support: whether philanthropic, business, or governmental, actors must rally behind programmes addressing the enormous impact wasting food has on food security, our climate, and our wallets.”

Woman throws pizza in the trash

What can you do on the individual level, though? The United States Environmental Protection Agency offers some tips. Make a list of what needs to be used up each week so it won’t go bad, see what you have in the kitchen before shopping, be specific in your shopping list and only buy what’s needed for meals, buy imperfect produce or upcycled products that would have likely gone to waste, properly store food, and freeze, can, or dehydrate extra produce.

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