One billion metric tons, 17% of all food available worldwide, was thrown away by households, retailers, institutions, and the hospitality industry in 2019 as reported by the United Nations. So, how does this food waste affect the environment? The list is shameful and heartbreaking.

  1. Contributes to climate change by generating 8% of greenhouse gases annually.
  2. Wastes natural resources. 
  3. Degrades and overstresses the land, as well as losing land to trash dumps.
  4. Harms to ecosystems through mono-cropping, deforestation, and threatening marine systems and water security.

Food Waste Defined (summarized from Food for human consumption that is squandered and tossed. Happens throughout the entire food supply chain from the farm to the harvest to transportation, supermarkets, and households. 

  • Food loss is food tossed during the production process (grown, processed, sorted, packaged, transported, marketed, sold). 
  • Food waste is edible food that gets thrown out for various reasons. 
  • Food waste occurs at all stages throughout production. 

Every time food is wasted, all the resources used in each step of production are also lost, making the impact even that much more significant. This is magnified the further down the chain you go, i.e. more energy and natural resources are used and lost. In the United States, food is the single largest category in municipal landfills (U.S. EPA).

Top Ways Food Waste Affects the Environment

Climate Change 

  1. Rotting food in landfills releases methane. This powerful greenhouse gas is twenty-five times stronger than CO2. Methane also stays in the atmosphere for 12 years and traps heat from the sun. 
  2. This methane is 20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. 
  3.  If food waste were a country, its greenhouse gas emissions would be the third largest in the world, following the US and China. 

Waste of Natural Resources 

Water – all food needs water for production. Agriculture accounts for 70% of the water used throughout the world. Irrigation, rearing cattle, poultry, and fish. By wasting food, fresh water is wasted. 

  1. Many countries are predicted to be uninhabitable in a few decades, thus conserving fresh water should be a worldwide emergency. 
  2. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) showed that food waste ends up squandering a quarter of our water supply in the form of uneaten food.
  3. $172 BILLION in wasted water. 
  4. Over $220 billion is spent growing, transporting, and processing almost 70 million tons of food that eventually ends up in landfills. 
  5. Growing food that goes from farm to trash uses 21% of freshwater, 19% of our fertilizers, 18% of our cropland, and 21% of our landfill volume.
  6. Toss 2 lbs of beef, you’ve just thrown away 1,300 gallons of water.
  7. Toss a glass of milk down the drain, that’s 260 gallons of water wasted.
  8. Don’t forget all the oil, diesel, and other fossil fuels used in this process as well.

Destroying The Land 

The physical land used to produce food and the land used for dumping the food are both adversely affected. 

  1. 263 million tons of meat is produced globally on “non-arable” land (that cannot grow crops). Over 20% of that meat is lost or wasted. As meat is in higher demand, more arable landscapes are being converted into pastures for meat production. This degrades the land and prohibits anything natural from growing on it. 
  2. Over-stressing land for food production will diminish yields over time. The biodiversity is also harmed as habitats for animals are lost and food chains in the ecosystem are disrupted. 
  3. The same goes for the dairy industry where 20% is also lost. In Europe alone, 29 million tons of dairy products are wasted every year.

Loss of Biodiversity 

Biodiversity: species and organisms that make up an environment’s ecosystem. 

  1. Agriculture in general causes damage to biodiversity systems. Mono-cropping, converting wild lands into pastures through deforestation kills the native flora and fauna, sometimes to the point of extinction. 
  2. Marine life biodiversity is also being affected. Overfishing is decimating marine ecosystems and food chains. The increase in global fish consumption is outpacing population growth, while places like Europe are discarding 40-60% of seafood because they do not meet supermarket quality standards. 
  3. “The continuing loss of biodiversity will undermine our ability for poverty reduction, food and water security, human health and the overall goal of leaving nobody behind,” from UN biodiversity chief Robert Watson.


  • 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to non-consumed food. 
  • Wasted food equals lost and wasted resources that produced the food: water, land, energy, labor, and capital. 
  • Food waste in landfills, leads to greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change.

Lastest World-Wide Data From 2019

  • 1 billion metric tons, 17% of the food available worldwide, was thrown away by households, retailers, institutions, and the hospitality industry as reported by the United Nations.
  • 1 elephant usually weighs one ton. Try to picture a storage container with 40 elephants (40 tons) all together. 
  • Now line up 23 MILLION of those containers end-to-end. This much food waste could circle the planet, which is almost 25,000 miles around, seven times!

United Nations Environmental Program Food Waste Index 2021 -The UNEP is responsible for coordinating responses to environmental issues within the United Nations system. The report shared some of the following data.

  • More than half of food waste, 568 tons, is produced by households.
  • In every country that measured food waste, household food waste is a global problem.
  • The report covers three-quarters of the world including 54 countries in all income brackets, poor, middle-income, and wealthy.
  • The Food Waste Index report was designed to help countries measure their problem and help curb global warming.
  • Preventing food waste has been highlighted in the UNEP GEO-6 report as one of three important actions that need to be taken in transforming the food system

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