Photo: WFP/Nick Sells

8 Facts to Know About Food Waste and Hunger

World Food Program USA
October 1, 2021

Global hunger isn’t about a lack of food. Right now, the world produces enough food to nourish every man, woman and child on the planet.

But nearly one-third of all food produced each year is squandered or spoiled before it can be consumed. 

For many Americans, this food waste happens in the kitchen — when we prepare food that is left uneaten or spoils in our fridges and cabinets.

For millions of people in low-income countries, this food waste happens at harvest time. Poor storage leads to pest infestations or mold that ruin crops before they can be eaten.

Along with chronic poverty, conflict and natural disasters, food waste is one of the root causes of hunger worldwide.

Here’s how food waste and global hunger are connected:

1) $1 Trillion Dollars’ Worth of Food Is Wasted Each Year

Approximately $1 trillion dollars’ worth of food is lost or wasted every year. This happens in the form of food loss – food that is damaged as it moves through the supply chain – and food waste – edible food that is thrown away by retailers or consumers.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reversing this trend would preserve enough food to feed 2 billion people . That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe.

2) Food Waste Is One of the Largest Producers of Carbon

Food waste and food loss have a significant impact on global warming. When wasted food goes to the landfill, it rots and emits greenhouse gases that damage our environment. Each year, 3 billion tons of greenhouse gases are emitted because of food waste.

To put this into perspective, if wasted food were a country it would be the third largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world after the U.S. and China. Taking small steps to reduce food waste, like eating leftovers and only buying the food that you need, helps fight global hunger and climate change.

corn
Photo: WFP/WFP/Andy Higgins

Approximately $1 trillion dollars’ worth of food is lost or wasted every year.

3) 30-40% of Food in the US Is Wasted

According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, roughly 30 to 40 percent of the food in the United States is wasted. That amounts to more than 20 pounds of food per person wasted each month.

This happens:

  • at the production and supply chain level, where food is damaged or spoiled
  • at the retail level, where food can be thrown out due to physical blemishes or overbuying
  • at the consumer level, when people buy more than they need and then throw out unused food

4) Rich Countries Waste as Much Food as Sub-Saharan Africa Produces

According to the U.N. Environment Programme, industrialized countries in North America, Europe and Asia collectively waste 222 million tons of food each year. In contrast, countries in sub-Saharan Africa produce 230 million tons of food each year. That means sub-Saharan Africa’s food output is practically equal to the amount of food wasted by the world’s richest countries.

women sorting rice
Photo: WFP/Nyani Quarmyne

Sub-Saharan Africa’s food output is practically equal to the amount of food wasted by the world’s richest countries.

5) Our Food Systems are Exhausting Soil and Water

The amount of water used to produce food that ends up wasted could fill Lake Geneva three times. And of the world’s arable land, 28 percent produces food that ends up in a trash bin rather than a hungry stomach.

6) Cutting Global Food Waste Is a Top U.N. Goal

In 2015, the U.N. created the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a blueprint for peace and prosperity for the world. In it are 17 goals to reach by the year 2030.

Sustainable Development Goal #12 is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and that includes cutting food waste in half by 2030.

farmer working in a field
Photo: WFP/Fredrik Lerneryd

The U.N. World Food Programme provides farmers with training on post-harvest crop management.

7) The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Helps Reduce Food Loss

Post-harvest food losses often occur because of poor storage equipment.

The U.N. World Food Programme’s Zero Post-Harvest Losses project sells low-cost, locally produced grain silos to farmers and provides them with training on post-harvest crop management in five key areas: harvesting, drying, threshing, solarization and storage. Through these air-tight storage containers, we help farmers cut their post-harvest food losses from 40 percent to under 2 percent.

8) WFP Finds New Ways to Distribute Food

Another cause of food loss in developing countries is damage and decay during transportation. Inadequate infrastructure can cause delays in delivery, especially in remote areas that are hard to access.

The U.N. World Food Programme is tackling these issues by boosting access to local markets. This includes sourcing its school meals with locally grown crops, so food is fresh and there’s no need to import it from far away. We are also working with communities to build better roads and storage facilities and, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, providing cargo bikes to mostly female farmers to increase their access to markets. This creates more efficient food distribution, thereby decreasing the risk of food loss during transportation.


Today, 811 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from while tons of perfectly edible food rots in landfills and poor storage containers. Reducing food waste and losses is key to ending global hunger, fighting climate change and fostering healthy food systems – and every person can be part of the solution.

To learn more about food waste and how you can help, visit our Food Waste & Food Loss hub.