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A half-century of production-phase greenhouse gas emissions from food loss & waste in the global food supply chain
- Porter, Stephen D., Reay, David S., Higgins, Peter, Bomberg, Elizabeth
- The Science of the total environment 2016 v.571 pp. 721-729
- Food and Agriculture Organization, anthropogenic activities, balance sheet, climate, developed countries, environmental impact, food waste, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, humans, supply chain, vegetables, China, Latin America
- Research on loss & waste of food meant for human consumption (FLW) and its environmental impact typically focuses on a single or small number of commodities in a specific location and point in time. However, it is unclear how trends in global FLW and potential for climate impact have evolved. Here, by utilising the Food and Agriculture Organization's food balance sheet data, we expand upon existing literature. Firstly, we provide a differentiated (by commodity, country and supply chain stage) bottom-up approach; secondly, we conduct a 50-year longitudinal analysis of global FLW and its production-phase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; and thirdly, we trace food wastage and its associated emissions through the entire food supply chain. Between 1961 and 2011 the annual amount of FLW by mass grew a factor of three – from 540Mt to 1.6Gt; associated production-phase (GHG) emissions more than tripled (from 680Mt to 2.2Gt CO2e). A 44% increase in global average per capita FLW emissions was also identified – from 225kg CO2e in 1961 to 323kg CO2e in 2011. The regional weighting within this global average changing markedly over time; in 1961 developed countries accounted for 48% of FLW and less than a quarter (24%) in 2011. The largest increases in FLW-associated GHG emissions were from developing economies, specifically China and Latin America – primarily from increasing losses in fruit and vegetables. Over the period examined, cumulatively such emissions added almost 68Gt CO2e to the atmospheric GHG stock; an amount the rough equivalent of two years of emissions from all anthropogenic sources at present rates. Building up from the most granular data available, this study highlights the growth in the climate burden of FLW emissions, and thus the need to improve efficiency in food supply chains to mitigate future emissions.