How Big is Carbon Footprint of Food Waste?

GLOBAL - The carbon footprint of worldwide food losses and food waste amounts to the equivalent of 3.3 giga tons of CO2 emissions.

Compared to the CO² emissions of individual countries this volume, which is the estimate produced by the FAO’s Food wastage footprint – impacts on natural resources, 2013 ranks third among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters after China and the USA.

What this means in concrete terms is that the greenhouse gas associated with the production, processing, transport and storage of all non-consumed food corresponds to roughly half of what both China and the USA emit into the atmosphere each year, according to SAVE FOOD, a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and Messe Düsseldorf GmbH.

For Germany this figure stands at approximately one giga ton - less than one third of all global emissions caused by food loss and waste.

By comparison the with 3.3 giga tons (billion tons) of food waste emissions, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with road traffic in all of the USA was 1.5 giga tons in 2010.

Broken down into food categories, cereals (at 34 per cent) account for the biggest share in greenhouse gas emissions caused by food loss and waste, followed by meat and vegetables at 21 per cent each.

At only five per cent, the percentage of meat in the total amount of food loss is far lower than that of cereals (25 per cent) and vegetables (below 25 per cent).

This means meat has a clearly bigger carbon-footprint, because it causes in excess of one fifth of greenhouse gas emissions.

In Germany the situation is similar. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, meat accounts for almost half the carbon footprint in the food value chain – while only accounting for about 10 per cent of total food waste volume, according to the Reduction of Food Waste study by Münster University of Applied Sciences in March 2012.

The main reasons for meat’s very large carbon footprint lie in the high levels of energy and resources needed to grow feed, in the machinery used for raising and transporting livestock, in refrigeration – and last but not least in the substantial CO2-emissions of ruminants.

This is also why cattle raising is considered particularly greenhouse-gas intensive, the campaign claims.

Losses and carbon footprints also vary across the various stages in the value chain. The highest losses occur in production whereas carbon footprint is at its largest in the consumption stage, according to the FAO’s Food wastage footprint – impacts on natural resources – also due to the energy required for storage and cooking in private households, restaurants, canteens and the like.

Greenhouse gas emitted in food manufacturing, transport and storage puts a burden on the environment.

But if this food then even perishes or is disposed of, these pollutants have been emitted to the atmosphere without any benefit.

Minimising waste and loss is therefore indispensable for these reasons alone. Add to this the fact that one in eight human beings on earth suffer from hunger while one third of all produced foodstuffs are not consumed.

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