Food loss and waste is food that is not eaten. The causes of food waste or loss are numerous and occur throughout the food system, during production, processing, distribution, retail and food service sales, and consumption. Overall, about one-third of the world’s food is thrown away. Metaanalysis that did not include food lost during production, by the United Nations Environment Programme found that food waste was a challenge in all countries at all levels of economic development. The analysis estimated that global food waste was 931 million tonnes of food waste (about 121 kg per capita) across three sectors: 61 per cent from households, 26 per cent from food service and 13 per cent from retail.
Food loss and waste is a major part of the impact of agriculture on climate change (it amounts to 3.3 billion tons of CO2 e emissions annually) and other environmental issues, such as land use, water use and loss of biodiversity. Prevention of food waste is the highest priority, and when prevention is not possible, the food waste hierachy ranks the food waste treatment options from preferred to least preferred based on their negative environmental impacts. Reuse pathways of surplus food intended for human consumption, such as food donation, is the next best strategy after prevention, followed by animal feed, recycling of nutrients and energy followed by the least preferred option, landfill, which is a major source of the greenhouse gas methane. Other considerations include unreclaimed phosphorus in food waste leading to further phosphate mining. Moreover, reducing food waste in all parts of the food system is an important part of reducing the environmental impact of agriculture, by reducing the total amount of water, land, and other resources used.