The Amount of Food Waste in the World is a Really Big Problem [Infographic]

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In the United States we waste up to 40 percent of our food. But food waste isn’t just a problem reserved for North America, it’s a global issue. Worldwide, 68 percent of food gets eaten, leaving the other 32 percent going to waste.

Popular Science made this great infographic below which helps us to better visualize food waste, breaking it down by type of food. Using data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the infographic also looked at food waste by region.

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While it might be easy to assume that in Western countries where many of us have too much food, food waste would be more of a problem, data shows that developing regions waste as much food as industrialized ones. As the infographic shows, Asia, which is home to half of the world’s population, loses the most overall.

This is not to say that the problem of food waste is entirely even. According to UNEP, “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Where is all that food waste coming from? In developing countries that food waste is mainly occurring in the early stages of the food supply chain, related to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques and storage. This means that to reduce food waste in these areas we need to invest more money into better infrastructure of the food system.

In more well-off countries however, the majority of food waste takes place later in the supply chain. For example, retailers discarding unsold food. This is why campaigns like French supermarket Intermarche’s ugly produce campaign are interesting, as food waste needs to be addressed at all levels of the food supply chain.

Another problem of this food waste farther down the supply chain are the environmental impacts. In the US for example, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills – to the tune of 35 million tons – and this is a huge source of methane emissions. Programs like biogas facilities and municipal composting programs are helping to tackle this.

And of course when it comes to food waste, it’s easy to blame the larger players in the supply chain, but there’s a lot that you can do as an individual to cut your own personal food waste as well. Be a part of the solution.

Infographic can be found here.

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Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a writer who focuses on food, travel and culture. Taking a holistic approach to eating, she believes in good food, from good places, with good people. She runs the website Foodie Underground and is the author of The Culinary Cyclist: A Cookbook and Companion for the Good Life.