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23 resource-hungry food facts

Why all the fuss about food waste? Because it’s a waste of the world’s most valuable resources – energy, water and carbon. Read on for some revealing food facts…

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Wasting food is a waste of money. But the bigger problem is that it wastes the resources that go into that food. Our food production system, and our throwing away of much of that food, has complex impacts around the world. These include depletion of water aquifers, deforestation, loss of wildlife, reduced soil fertility and increased carbon emissions. To get a clearer picture, here are 23 facts about food and the resources our food uses. Some of them may just surprise you…


Food and carbon emissions

1. Farming is responsible for 20-30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions

2. Eating less meat could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2030, says a WWF report, Eating for 2 degrees – Live Well. Suggested actions include cutting meat consumption by 35 per cent and switching to a more plant-based diet with more legumes, nuts and grains.

3. Beef production emits six times more greenhouse gases per unit of protein than pork, chicken and eggs

4. In the UK, since 2007, we’ve managed to save £3.3 billion a year worth of food by throwing less of it away. That action has saved 4.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – the equivalent of taking 1.8 million cars off the road.

5. We still throw away 7m tonnes of good, edible food each year. If we stopped this we’d save 17m tonnes of C02 – the same as taking a quarter of our cars off our roads.


Wildlife impacts of food

6. Globally, agriculture uses 37 per cent of the earth’s land mass (excluding Antarctica).

7. The current food system is responsible for 60 per cent of global biodiversity loss.

8. Approximately 70 per cent of the land used to grow the UK’s food is located overseas.

9. Palm oil production is responsible for a 25 per cent reduction in Orangutan territory in Borneo in just 14 years. Around 50 per cent of the food in our supermarkets contains palm oil.

10. 90 per cent of soy imports to the UK are used to feed livestock. Soy is mostly imported from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay where production has contributed to the large-scale destruction of the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado tropical savannah.


Water in our food

11. 70 per cent of the extracted water in the world is used for agriculture

12. It takes around 16,000 litres to produce 1kg of beef. Producing 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water. Vegetables require considerably less water – for example, 287 litres of water is generally needed for 1kg of potatoes.

13. It takes 24,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of chocolate. After chocolate, the crops that use the most water by weight are coffee, millet grains and olives. Water intensive crops can seriously deplete water aquifers on which people depend.

14. Two thirds of the embedded water in food thrown away in the UK comes from countries outside the UK. These are often countries suffering problems of droughts.

15. Non-processed is better for water-conscious souls. Crisps sook up more than three times the water footprint of potatoes. Tomato sauce needs twice the amount of water than tomatoes. Milk uses less water than cheese and butter.


Energy in our food

16. Global agriculture currently uses an average of 180 million tons of fertiliser to grow livestock feed. As the world population grows and demands more meat, it’s estimated we’ll be using 230 million tons (27 billion litres) by 2050. That’s a lot of fossil fuel!

17. One quarter of all road freight in the UK is transporting food.

18. Replacing meat-based calories with eggs and dairy products would save as much energy as switching from a petrol car to hybrid.


What a waste

19. Wasting food wastes all the resources – water, energy and carbon – that goes into making that food.

20. Approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted.

21. If just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.

22. Up to 30 per cent of the UK's vegetable crop is never harvested because it doesn’t meet retailer standards for physical appearance (such as size and colour).

23. In developing countries, over 40 per cent of food losses happen after harvest and during processing. In industrialised countries, over 40 per cent occurs at retail and consumer level.


If you're in the business of food...

If you’re a restaurant or food manufacturer, the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s ‘Food Made Good’ supplier programme can help you find sustainable suppliers across your supply chain. You can also sign up for sustainable certification.

And of course, you can contact us here at Resource Efficient Scotland for help and advice on preventing food waste and making sustainable food purchasing choices. Call us on 0808 808 2268 or email

Our support to reduce your business costs through food waste prevention and reduction are funded by the Scottish Government and by the European Regional Development Fund through the £73 million Resource Efficiency Circular Economy Accelerator Programme.

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