By IPS correspondent

Households on every continent will waste more than a billion meals a day in 2022, while 783 million people will go hungry, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says in a new report.

“Food waste is a global tragedy. Millions of people go hungry today because of food waste worldwide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director, launching the report ahead of International Zero Waste Day on 30 March.

Andersen added: “Not only is this a major development issue, but the impact of this unnecessary waste has significant costs for the climate and nature.

While a third of the world’s 8 billion people face food insecurity, food waste continues to damage economies and fuel climate change, loss of nature, and pollution.

“Food waste is a global tragedy. Millions of people worldwide are going hungry today because of food waste. Not only is it a major development issue, but the impact of this unnecessary waste has significant costs for the climate and nature.” Inger Andersen.

The Food Waste Index Report 2024 provides the most accurate global estimate of food waste at retail and consumer levels, guides countries on data collection, and suggests best practices to move from measuring to reducing food waste.

Among other things, it reveals that 1050 million tons of food waste (including inedible parts) will be generated in 2022, which equates to 132 kilograms per capita and almost a fifth of all food available to consumers.

Of the total food wasted in 2022, 60% will be generated by households, 28% by food service operators and 12% by retailers.

The data confirms that food waste is not just a “rich country problem”, as the level of household food waste differs by only seven kilograms per person from the average for high-, upper-middle- and lower-middle-income countries,

Warmer countries appear to generate more food waste per capita at the household level, possibly due to higher consumption of fresh food with significant inedible parts and a lack of strong cold chains.

Food loss (from farm to retailer) and waste account for 8-10% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions (warming the atmosphere), almost five times that of the aviation sector.

They are also responsible for significant biodiversity loss, absorbing the equivalent of almost a third of the world’s agricultural output.

The cost of food loss and waste to the global economy is around one trillion dollars.

Urban areas are expected to benefit particularly from efforts to strengthen food waste reduction and circularity.

Rural areas generally waste less food, and possible explanations include greater food waste diversion to pets, livestock, and home composting.

Since 2021, the data infrastructure has been strengthened with more studies tracking food waste, particularly in more developed countries and other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Brazil.

However, many low- and middle-income countries still lack adequate systems to track progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030.