Each year, a third of all food produced around the world never makes it to anyone’s plate. That’s more than a billion tons of food, wasted.

Globe with wheat overlayed on top

And it has a big effect on the climate. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of global-warming pollution.

All that pollution comes from the energy used to plant, grow, and harvest crops, then ship and process all the food. And then there’s all the methane that’s released when wasted food breaks down in a landfill.

The causes of food waste, however, are different in different parts of the world according to Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University.

Tim Searchinger
Tim Searchinger

SEARCHINGER: “In Africa, a majority occurs closer to the farm, basically in the handling and storage and harvesting stages.”

Because they lack equipment, many African farmers cannot quickly harvest their crops when bad weather strikes. And refrigeration and proper storage are often limited, so food rots before it can reach the market.

SEARCHINGER: “In the U.S., most of the food loss and waste occurs either at the grocery store level or in the consumer level.”

”One-third Click To Tweet

So Americans can make a difference by buying just what we need, eating leftovers, and composting. The results will help our wallets and the planet.

Reporting credit: Andrew Lapin/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Globe photo: Copyright protected.

The Series:
Pt 1: Food waste is a global problem (May 30, 2016)
Pt 2: Educating restaurants on how to reduce food waste (May 31, 2016)
Pt 3: Food wasted because it’s not perfect (June 1, 2016)
Pt 4: Rescuing leftover food (June 2, 2016)
Pt 5: What you can do to reduce wasted food (June 3, 2016)

More Resources
FAQs on Food Waste
Food Loss and Waste Facts
Food Loss and Food Waste

Jan O'Brien was assistant editor and website manager at Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. She brought more than three decades of experience in environmental publishing and policy research and more...