Millions of people around the world go hungry every day, and yet as much as half of all food produced goes to waste. That conclusion comes from a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers titled “Global food: Waste not, want not.”

The authors note the issue will become even more critical as the global population grows toward an estimated 9.5 billion by 2075, placing a severe strain on land, energy, water and other resources.

The report documents several causes of food waste, with each requiring different sets of solutions. In less-developed countries, the losses tend to occur early in the production chain, with inefficient harvesting, inadequate storage and poor infrastructure and transportation for agricultural commodities. As the level of development in countries increases, the waste tends to occur further down the chain, and the report cites issues such as overly strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free offers and consumers demanding cosmetically perfect food. Up to half of the food that’s bought in Europe and the USA is thrown away by consumer.
Even in developed countries, unnecessary waste can occur on farms. As much as 30 percent of UK vegetable crops, for example, are not harvested because they fail to meet exacting standards based on their physical appearance.

Demand for water for food production could more than triple by 2050, the authors note, and today about 550 billion cubic meters of water goes to crops that never will reach consumers.

The authors offer three recommendations, which they say potentially could provide 60 to 100 percent more food by eliminating losses and waste while at the same time freeing up land, energy and water resources.

  1.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) works with the international engineering community to ensure governments of developed nations put in place programs that transfer engineering knowledge, design know-how, and suitable technology to newly developing countries. This will help improve produce handling in the harvest, and immediate post-harvest stages of food production.
  2. Governments of rapidly developing countries incorporate waste minimization thinking into the transport infrastructure and storage facilities currently being planned, engineered and built.
  3. Governments in developed nations devise and implement policy that changes consumer expectations. These should discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of cosmetic characteristics, and losses in the home due to excessive purchasing by consumers.

Read the full report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.