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Environmental impact of China’s food waste is equal to that of an entire country’s emissions

By Sam Smith, Director of Marketing  ///  August 2, 2021


As awareness of the connection between food waste and climate change grows globally, a new report illustrates the environmental impact of China’s food waste in stark detail.

More than a quarter of food produced for human consumption in China is lost or wasted each year. The carbon footprint of that waste is equal to the entire emissions of a country the size of the United Kingdom.

In a study published in the scientific journal Nature Food, researchers found 27% — or 349 million tons — of food wasn’t eaten annually between 2014 and 2018 in the country. That is equal to the total annual food production of Brazil.

While the bulk of that waste accumulated at the farm, researchers found the environmental impact of food waste was much greater once it reached the consumer, particularly in out-of-home dining. As one of the research authors, Xue Li, a natural resources researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, explained, by the time the food reaches a restaurant diner, its carbon footprint has grown due to transportation, water use and other energy inputs.

China has been aggressive in drawing attention to the problem of food waste in the country, a global problem not isolated to China. Last year, China announced the Clean Plate Campaign to cut the nation’s food waste. In an August speech, Chinese leader XI Jingping called China’s level of food waste “shocking and distressing.” 

As the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization recently reported, the global food system accounts for over one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. This builds on previous FAO research illustrating that if global food waste were a country, it would rank third (behind the United States and China) in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Separate research has found that if food waste and other food system inefficiencies are not addressed, the Paris Climate goals cannot be achieved.

The good news for the foodservice industry--which contributes one quarter of global food waste, according to the UN--is that the problem of food waste is solvable. The foodservice industry can cut its food waste in half and reduce its carbon footprint by leveraging automated food waste measurement and prevention systems. It’s why food waste prevention should be every foodservice organization’s top sustainability initiative. Find out more in our new e-book.

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