Food waste responsible for an economic loss of $1 trillion, UNEP finds

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that food waste inflicted economic loss equivalent to 1 trillion US dollars in 2022- more than the GDP of the Netherlands ($991 billion) in the same year.
April 2, 2024
No items found.

UNEP and WRAP study reveals the scale of the ‘global tragedy’ of food waste

A new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in partnership with the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), has revealed the dramatic scale of food waste, with over 1.05 billion tonnes wasted in 2022 alone[i]. The latest edition of the  Food Waste Index Report has been created to track country-level progress to halve food waste by 2030 in line with SDG 12.3, and follows the previous edition released in 2021. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 for food waste and loss is part of the  wider Sustainable Development Goals which were agreed and adopted by UN members back in 2015.

The latest UNEP research finds that almost a fifth (19%) of food available to consumers is being wasted at the retail, food service, and household level with this in addition to the estimated 13% lost in the supply chain[ii]. Out of the total food wasted in 2022, households were responsible for 631 million tonnes (60%), the food service sector for 290 million tonnes (28%), and the retail sector for 131 million tonnes (12%).

To put this into perspective, households were found to waste the equivalent of 1 billion meals per day, with the average person wasting 79kg of food annually. The study found that this would equate to 1.3 meals every day for those impacted by hunger. Presently an estimated 783 million people are suffering from hunger and a third of humanity faces food insecurity[iii].

The effect on the environment is also substantial, with the UNEP & WRAP claiming that food loss and waste generates between 8-10% of global emissions, almost 5 times that seen from the aviation sector.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP has said: “Food waste is a global tragedy. Millions will go hungry today as food is wasted across the world,” she added: “Not only is this a major development issue, but the impacts of such unnecessary waste are causing substantial costs to the climate and nature. The good news is we know if countries prioritise this issue, they can significantly reverse food loss and waste, reduce climate impacts and economic losses, and accelerate progress on global goals.”[iv]

Food waste is not just a ‘rich country’ problem

Perhaps surprisingly the research revealed that food waste is not purely an issue stemming from rich nations, where improved data coverage in the latest UNEP report (compared with the 2021 edition) found an increased convergence between rich and poor in terms of the volume of food wasted. In addition, High-income, upper-middle income, and lower-middle income countries differ in observed average levels of household food waste by just 7kg per capita per year. Hotter countries appear to generate more food waste per capita in households, potentially due to higher consumption of fresh foods with substantial inedible parts and a lack of robust cold chains, the study suggests. The research also noted a disparity between rural and urban populations in middle-income countries, with those in rural communities wasting less.

Japan and the UK show change at scale is possible & G20 countries are asked to lead international efforts to cut food waste

Concerningly the report found that only four G20 countries (Australia, Japan, UK, and USA) and the European Union have food waste estimates suitable for tracking progress towards the SDG 12.3 goal of halving food waste by 2030. The researchers argue that G20 countries can take a leading role in policy development and international cooperation to deliver SDG 12.3. Further, it is suggested that they can leverage their notable influence on global consumer trends to promote awareness and education about food waste at home, as well as sharing their expertise and experience with nations that are just beginning to tackle the issue of food waste.

The study names Japan and the UK as success stories in reducing food waste at scale- the researchers note reductions of 18 and 31 percent respectively, advising collaboration between governments, cities, municipalities, and food businesses to reduce food waste and help households act.

WRAP’s CEO Harriet Lamb said: “With the huge cost to the environment, society, and global economies caused by food waste, we need greater coordinated action across continents and supply chains. We support UNEP in calling for more G20 countries to measure food waste and work towards SDG12.3”[v]

She added: “This is critical to ensuring food feeds people, not landfills. Public-Private Partnerships are one key tool delivering results today, but they require support: whether philanthropic, business, or governmental, actors must rally behind programmes addressing the enormous impact wasting food has on food security, our climate, and our wallets.”[vi] 


[i] Food Waste Index Report 2024 | UNEP - UN Environment Programme

[ii] fw_eu-platform_20230511_sub-flwm_pres09.pdf (

[iii] Food-Waste-Index-2024-key-messages.pdf (

[iv] World squanders over 1 billion meals a day - UN report (

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid

Related Insights

Thank you! We'll keep you posted!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

Lauren's Insights