We waste a lot of food (about a third of what we produce, or 1.4 billion tons a year). And what makes it worse is that we waste a lot of energy, water, and land at the same time. A new U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report measures and quantifies this "food wastage footprint," and shows just how wasteful food production is. Here are some highlights:
Wasted food production uses water equivalent to the annual flow of the Volga River, the longest river in Europe.
Or, another way to look at it: Uneaten food "vainly occupies almost 1.4 billion hectares of land." That's the equivalent of the total land mass of China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.
It also puts 3.6 billion of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That's as much as the third heaviest emitting country.
The economic cost of all that uneaten food is $750 billion a year and just 10 "hotspots" (food/place "combinations") account for 50% of wastage. For example, Latin America's meat sector wastes 80% of all meat; cereals in Asia have "major impacts on carbon emissions and water and land use."
More than half of the wastage is upstream (during production, harvest handling, and storage), but retail and consumer food waste levels are higher in richer countries.
Director general of the FAO, José Graziano da Silva, says that societies need to "prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can't."
"We simply cannot allow one third of all the food we produce to go to waste, when 870 million people go hungry every day," he says.