The carbon footprint of a food product is the total amount of GHG emitted throughout its lifecycle, expressed in kilograms of CO2 equivalents. GHG emissions of the production phase (including all agricultural inputs, machinery, livestock, soils) and successive phases (such as processing, transportation, preparation of food, waste disposal) are all included in this calculation. Thus, 1 kg of wheat, or 1 kg of beef, have different carbon footprints, since their life cycles are different, emitting specific types and varying amount of greenhouse gases.

The global volume of food wastage is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes of “primary product equivalents.” Total food wastage for the edible part of this amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes. Food wastage’s carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG released into the atmosphere per year. The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted (250km3) is equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. Similarly, 1.4 billion hectares of land 28% of the world’s agricultural area is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.

Green House Emissions generated from food

Food production accounts for around one-quarter ~ 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  This is a lot, but it’s slightly easier to digest when we remind ourselves that food is a basic human need. 

What’s harder to make sense of is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions which are caused in the production of food that is never eaten.

Around one-quarter of the calories the world produces are thrown away; they’re spoiled or spilled in supply chains; or are wasted by retailers, restaurants and consumers.  To produce this food we need land, water, energy, and fertilizer inputs. It all comes at an environmental cost.

Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek , in their large meta-analysis of global food systems, published in Science, estimated how much of our greenhouse gas emissions come from wasted food.

The study by Poore and Nemecek found that almost one-quarter ~ 24% of food’s emissions come from food that is lost in supply chains or wasted by consumers. Almost two-thirds of this (15% of food emissions) comes from losses in the supply chain which result from poor storage and handling techniques; lack of refrigeration; and spoilage in transport and processing. The other 9% comes from food thrown away by retailers and consumers.

This means that food wastage is responsible for around 6% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.  In fact, it’s likely to be slightly higher since the analysis does not include food losses on the farm during production and harvesting. The highest carbon footprint of wastage occurs at the consumption phase (37% of total), whereas consumption only accounts for 22% of total food wastage. This is because 1 kilogram of food that is wasted further along the supply chain will have a higher carbon intensity than at earlier stages.

Technologies helping to reduce waste


Manufacturers have been waxing fruits and vegetables to improve their shelf-life since the 1920s, but California-based company Apeel has taken the concept to new levels.

Apeel’s invisible, edible coating is made from wasted agricultural products like leftover grape skins from wine production. Apeel’s coating can extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by five times.

Full Harvest

Over 9 million tonnes of “ugly” produce go to waste in the U.S. alone every year, rejected by stores because of consumers superficial preference for perfect-looking fruit and vegetables.

Full Harvest is rescuing that waste by building the first B2B marketplace where growers can connect with food companies to offload surplus or imperfect produce.

Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce

Like Full Harvest, Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce are two companies on the front line of the battle to rescue “ugly” fruit and vegetables from rotting in fields.

Operating in the US, they take a direct-to-consumer approach by delivering food boxes of imperfect produce to unfussy subscribers. Imperfect Produce claims to have saved over 18,000 tonnes of food, and 1.2 billion gallons of water.

Hazel Technologies

Intended for fruit producers, Hazel Technologies‘s little sachets release a chemical called 1-MCP, a potent plant hormone which sends a strong signal to fruits that it is not yet time to ripen. Producers simply need to toss a Hazel sachet into a box of their fruit. Over a three week period, that sachet releases a safe chemical that slows down the ripening process.

This technology allows more time for produce to get to the market could have a huge impact, especially in the developing world.


Israeli startup Wasteless aims to bring a more data-driven approach, using small screens to display dynamically changing prices for each item on the shelf. It uses machine learning to optimize these prices. They claim to reduce waste by a third while increasing revenues.


Neurolabs reduce food waste by accurately predicting demand with AI.

The Neurolabs team, based in Romania, are currently working on perfecting their algorithms and are planning to launch the product soon. Initial results indicate that they can reduce supermarket waste by up to 40%.

Winnow Solutions

Restaurants collect very little data on what food they throw away and why, and as such have no idea about how to reduce their waste.  Winnow Solutions products aim to solve that problem by allowing kitchens to monitor their waste.

Their latest update to the product, intriguingly named “Vision”: A weighing scale and an AI camera equipped with computer vision algorithms record the weight and the type of food as it is thrown into the bin. The member of staff then selects an option from a touchscreen on the wall above to indicate the reason for the waste.

Too Good To Go

Unlike most of the tech on this list, Too Good To Go is something you can start using right now. Simply download their app to find participating food vendors near you.

Restaurants and cafes can use the platform to sell off about-to-be wasted food at a marked-down price, typically at the end of each day. They get to sell off their surplus stock while attracting new customers to try their food.


“Hunger is the world’s dumbest problem” states Copia’s website.

Copia’s platform allows businesses to redistribute food surplus to feed people in need by connecting them to local shelters, after-school programs, and other nonprofit organizations. Their software also allows you to track surplus trends, and more easily access tax savings, delivering a hefty ROI to the business, as well as food to the needy.

Food Cloud

In the UK and Ireland, Dublin-based Food Cloud provides a similar service to Copia, connecting surplus food from businesses to over 7,500 charitable groups. They have so far saved 20,000 tonnes of food from the bin and fed 45 million meals to needy people.


Smarter’s FridgeCam is designed to be a low-cost way to help consumers permanently alter their habits and start using up what they already have.

The wireless camera can sit inside any fridge, and takes a photo every time you close the fridge door. You can then see the contents from anywhere via a mobile app. This allows you to more easily plan meals and shopping based on what you already have at home. The app also allows you to make inventories and shopping lists, and track best-before dates, giving you the knowledge to plan for a food-waste free lifestyle.


Products hold different carbon intensities. For example, vegetable production in Europe is more carbon intensive than vegetable production in industrialized and Southeast Asia, as Europe uses more carbon intensive means of production, such as artificially heated greenhouses. Inversely, cereal production in Asia is more carbon intensive than cereal production in Europe due to the difference in the type of cereal grown: rice on average has higher impact factors than wheat. Rice is a CH4 emitting crop because of the decomposition of organic matter in paddy fields (1 kg of CH4 is the equivalent of 25 kg of CO2 ).

Despite meat being a relatively low contributor to global food wastage in terms of volumes (less than 5% of total food wastage) it has a significant impact on climate change, contributing to over 20% of the carbon footprint of total food waste . This is because meat carbon footprint includes the emissions from producing a kilogram of meat (e.g. the methane emitted by ruminants), the emissions related to feed provision (e.g. the fertilizer used for the production of feed) and emissions from manure management. Thus, efforts to reduce GHG related to food wastage should focus on major climate hotspots commodities, such as meat and cereals.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG 12) on “Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns” includes a specific food waste reduction target: by 2030, to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses. The SDG 12 target of 50% food waste reduction is hereby combined with assumptions on feasible food loss reduction ratios, for each commodity group, in order to calculate a possible scenario.

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