Energy Initiative Blogs

Food waste across the world

by Ruxandra Griza | Mar 21, 2016

Every year, nearly one trillion dollars is wasted on food that will never be eaten globally. Industrialized nations waste about $680 billion worth of food, while developing nations waste $310 billion (Finn 2014). To compare, the population of developing nations is about 5.5 billion, while the population of industrialized nations is 1.25 billion (2014 World Population Data Sheet). How is it that developed nations, which fewer than a quarter of the world population calls home, manage to waste more than twice as much money worth of food as developing nations?

Not surprisingly, food waste behaviors tend to be heavily affected by various cultural and logistical factors. Because of these factors, such as the way food is viewed or the way it is transported, industrialized nations tend to waste more food than developing nations (Finn 2014, Gunders 2012). Interestingly, in industrialized nations, food is mostly wasted during distribution and after sale, while in developing nations this trend is the exact opposite: more food is wasted in developing nations during production and transport (Finn 2014; Verghese, Lewis, Lockrey, & Williams, 2015)

The risk of food waste during production is, to some extent, unavoidable. Unfavorable weather, drought, and pests can damage crops and reduce the amount of food that can be sold (Gunders 2012). In developing nations, though, lack of adequate and efficient infrastructure damages food during transport and makes food more likely to spoil before it reaches market. After reaching market, however, the food is considered precious and is unlikely to be wasted (Finn 2014).

An image showing produce that would likely not be sold to grocery stores (Tayag, 2015)


Unlike developing nations, industrialized nations often waste food that is perfectly edible. In addition to unavoidable losses during production, fruits and vegetables are often culled during harvest simply because they are not of a uniform shape, size, and color, even though they may still be edible (Gunders 2012). Grocery stores tend to overstock products in order to maintain an image of abundance, even though they understand that a portion of the food will inevitably not sell (Gunders 2012; Finn 2014). Finally, consumers tend to buy more food than they will eat, contributing the most food waste of all stages of a food product’s lifetime (Quested, Marsh, Stunell, & Parry, 2013).

The fundamental difference between food waste behaviors in developing nations versus industrialized nations seems to be the existence of a culture of abundance in industrialized nations. While food is highly valued and rarely wasted on purpose in developing nations, consumers in industrialized nations are accustomed to constant access to a wide variety of food items, which categorically implies that not all of the food produced will be consumed (Finn 2014).


2014 World Population Data Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved

Finn, S. M. (2014), VALUING OUR FOOD: MINIMIZING WASTE AND OPTIMIZING RESOURCES. Zygon, 49: 992–1008. doi: 10.1111/zygo.12131

Gunders, D. (2012, August). Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill (Issue brief No. 12-06-B). Retrieved January, from National Resources Defense Council website:

Quested, T., Marsh, E., Stunell, D., & Parry, A. (2013). Spaghetti soup: The complex world of food waste behaviours. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 79, 43-51.

Tayag, Y. (2015, June 25). Where To Buy Ugly Foo. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from 

Verghese, K, Lewis, H, Lockrey, S, and Williams, H (2015), Packaging's Role in Minimizing Food Loss and Waste Across the Supply Chain. Packag. Technol. Sci., 28, 603–620. doi: 10.1002/pts.2127.