Food loss and waste represent half of GHG emissions from food systems

SCIENTISTS from China and Singapore have analysed cradle-to-grave emissions from food loss and waste and found that they represent half of total global greenhouse gas emissions from food systems.

They say global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food loss and waste (FLW) have not previously been well characterised from cradle to grave. In their study they quantify GHG emissions followed assess the emission reductions that could be achieved by policy and technological interventions.

Global food loss and waste emitted 9.3Gt of carbon dioxide equivalent from the supply chain and waste management systems in 2017, which accounted for about half of the global annual GHG emissions from the whole food system.

The sources of food loss and waste emissions are widely distributed across nine post-farming stages and vary according to country, region and food category. Income level, technology availability and prevailing dietary pattern also affect the country and regional emissions.

Halving food loss and waste generation, halving meat consumption and enhancing food loss and waste management technologies are the strategies they assess for emission reductions.

Speaking to Carbon Brief earlier this year, Prof Ke Yin, a professor at Nanjing Forestry University in China and one of the authors on the study, says that the team hopes that their findings will make people aware of the “huge amount” of food waste emissions.

She said, “Some countries have done some work to prevent food wasting, such as public education and government policies. Some examples are waste sorting in Japan, Germany and, more recently, China. Yet, many countries spend little to no effort [combating the problem] due to various reasons, such as poverty, inequality and political instability.”

The study uses food supply data from the FAO that covers 164 countries and regions between 2001 and 2017. It examines the loss and waste of 54 different food commodities across four different categories: cereals and pulses; meats and animal products; roots and oil crops; and fruits and vegetables.

The study finds that China, India, the US and Brazil together generate just over 44% of the global supply-related emissions from food waste and 38% of the global waste-management-related emissions.

The researchers hope that these insights will help decision makers localise and optimise intervention strategies for sustainable food loss and waste management.

Read the research paper
Read more analysis on Carbon Brief


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