What is food loss and food waste? Why is it important to reduce food loss and waste?

What is food loss and food waste? Why is it important to reduce food loss and waste?

Food loss and waste represent significant challenges with widespread effects on society, the economy, and the environment. Annually, billions of tons of food never reach the consumer, lost or wasted at various stages of the food supply chain.

Food loss is mainly associated with the production, post-harvest, and processing phases, whereas food waste typically occurs at the consumer level, in homes, restaurants, and shops. Both issues, despite their distinct stages, lead to similar outcomes: they intensify food insecurity, drain economic resources, harm the environment, and pose ethical dilemmas.

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What is food loss and food waste?

Food loss and food waste are two terms often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings. Let’s break them down.

Food Loss:

Definition: Food loss refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain, excluding retailers, food service providers, and consumers.


  1. Production: Losses occur during harvesting, handling, storage, and transportation due to factors like pests, diseases, and weather conditions.
  2. Processing: Losses may happen during processing due to spoilage, damage, or inefficiencies in processing techniques.
  3. Distribution: Losses occur during transportation and distribution from farms to markets due to inadequate infrastructure or mishandling.
  4. Market: Sometimes, food is not sold due to market fluctuations, quality standards, or overproduction.


  • Fruits and vegetables rot in fields due to lack of proper harvesting techniques.
  • Grains getting spoiled in storage silos due to pests or humidity.
  • Fish discarded due to damage during transportation.
Vegetables thrown into a landfill, rotting outdoors.

Food Waste:

Definition: Food waste occurs when food is discarded or left uneaten at any point along the food supply chain, including households, food service establishments, and retailers.


  1. Consumer Behavior: Overbuying, improper storage, and cooking more than needed contribute to food waste at the consumer level.
  2. Expiration Dates: Misinterpretation of date labels and consumer preference for aesthetically pleasing products lead to discarding food prematurely.
  3. Portion Sizes: Large portion sizes in restaurants and homes can result in leftover food that often goes to waste.
  4. Retail Practices: Retailers may discard food that doesn’t meet cosmetic standards, even if it’s still edible.


  • Leftover food from restaurants and households is thrown away.
  • Expired products discarded by retailers.
  • Vegetables and fruits spoil in the fridge due to neglect.

Key Differences:

  • Location: Food loss occurs in the production, post-harvest, and processing stages of the supply chain, while food waste happens at the consumption stage, including households, restaurants, and retail.
  • Responsibility: Food loss is mainly the responsibility of producers, processors, and distributors, while food waste involves consumers, retailers, and food service providers.
  • Condition: Food loss often occurs due to factors beyond human control like weather and pests, whereas food waste is more related to human behaviour and decisions.


  • Economic: Food loss affects farmers’ incomes and leads to increased production costs. Food waste results in economic losses for consumers and businesses.
  • Environmental: Both contribute to environmental degradation through greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and land use. Food waste in landfills produces methane gas.
  • Social: Food loss can exacerbate food insecurity by reducing the availability of food. Food waste reflects inefficiency in resource allocation and distribution.
A woman empties a bucket of organic waste into a compost bin

Why is it important to reduce food loss and waste?

In today’s world, where the number of people suffering from hunger has been steadily increasing since 2014, reducing food losses and waste is absolutely vital. Every single day, tons of edible food are lost or thrown away, contributing to this widespread issue.

On a global scale, about 13 per cent of food produced is lost between the time it’s harvested and when it reaches the store shelves, while an estimated 17 per cent of all food produced globally is wasted in households, food service establishments, and retail outlets combined.

The International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, with the 2023 theme “Reducing food loss and waste: Taking Action to Transform Food Systems,” provides an important opportunity to rally both public (national or local authorities) and private sector players (businesses and individuals) to prioritize actions and come up with innovative solutions to tackle food loss and waste. This is crucial for building more resilient and sustainable food systems for the future.

In 2022, between 691 and 783 million people faced hunger globally. What’s even more alarming is that food loss and waste account for a staggering 38 per cent of the total energy usage in the global food system.

Food loss and waste seriously challenge the sustainability of our food systems. When we lose or waste food, we’re not just throwing away the food itself; we’re also wasting all the resources that went into producing it—like water, land, energy, labour, and money. On top of that, when food waste ends up in landfills, it emits greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. This not only affects our environment but also impacts food security, availability, and the cost of food.

To ensure that our food systems are strong and sustainable, we need to tackle food loss and waste head-on. This means taking action on both a global and local scale to make the most of the food we produce. We can do this by embracing new technologies, finding innovative solutions (like using e-commerce platforms for marketing or mobile food processing systems), adopting new practices for managing food quality, and changing the way we work with food. Implementing technologies such as food waste composters can also play a significant role in reducing waste and creating valuable compost for agriculture.

We have just seven years left to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG), which includes targets for reducing food loss and waste. It’s crucial that we speed up our efforts to make a real difference.

Close-up view of kitchen waste and red wriggler earthworms in worm tower for vermicomposting in garden

Why is it a Problem?

  1. Resource Waste: When food is lost or wasted, we’re not just losing the food itself; we’re also wasting all the resources used to produce it—like water, land, energy, labour, and money.
  2. Environmental Impact: Food waste contributes to climate change. When food decomposes in landfills, it releases greenhouse gases, which harm the environment.
  3. Food Security: Food loss and waste can worsen food insecurity. Instead of feeding people, perfectly good food is thrown away, leaving some without enough to eat.
  4. Higher Food Costs: Wasting food isn’t just bad for the environment—it’s also bad for our wallets. When food is thrown away, it drives up the cost of food for everyone.


  1. Technology: Embracing new technologies can help us reduce food loss and waste. This could include things like using apps to track food expiration dates or implementing smart packaging that extends the shelf life of food.
  2. Innovation: We need to think outside the box and come up with new ideas to tackle food waste. For example, using e-commerce platforms to sell surplus food, implementing mobile food processing systems, or utilizing Hass Co‘s food waste composters to turn waste into valuable compost for agriculture.
  3. Best Practices: Adopting best practices for managing food quality throughout the supply chain can help minimize food loss and waste. This includes proper storage, handling, and transportation techniques.


We have just seven years left to achieve targets 1, 2, and 3 of Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG). This means we need to act fast to reduce food loss and waste and create a more sustainable food system for the future.


To sum it up, tackling food loss and waste is crucial for a sustainable, fair food system. By getting to the heart of the issue and rolling out effective solutions, we’re on the path to securing food for all, stabilizing the economy, and safeguarding our environment. It’s a team effort—everyone from individuals to global organizations needs to pitch in for smarter consumption and production. Education, innovation, supportive policies, and working together are key. This way, we can feed the hungry, save precious resources, and protect our planet for the generations to come. Taking on the challenge of cutting down food waste isn’t just a chance—it’s our duty to make the world a better place for everyone.

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