Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Cradle-to-grave emissions from food loss and waste represent half of total greenhouse gas emissions from food systems


Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food loss and waste (FLW) are not well characterized from cradle to grave. Here GHG emissions due to FLW in supply chain and waste management systems are quantified, followed by an assessment of the GHG emission reductions that could be achieved by policy and technological interventions. Global FLW emitted 9.3 Gt of CO2 equivalent from the supply chain and waste management systems in 2017, which accounted for about half of the global annual GHG emissions from the whole food system. The sources of FLW emissions are widely distributed across nine post-farming stages and vary according to country, region and food category. Income level, technology availability and prevailing dietary pattern also affect the country and regional FLW emissions. Halving FLW generation, halving meat consumption and enhancing FLW management technologies are the strategies we assess for FLW emission reductions. The region-specific and food-category-specific outcomes and the trade-off in emission reductions between supply chain and waste management are elucidated. These insights may help decision makers localize and optimize intervention strategies for sustainable FLW management.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Food and GHG flows of the global food system in 2017.
Fig. 2: Correlations between country GDP and GHG emissions in various food sectors.
Fig. 3: Outcomes of FLW GHG emission intervention strategies.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available in the Supplementary Information and Source Data. Most of the datasets used in the analysis are available publicly, such as from FAOSTAT or the World Bank. The raw data on the food supply are available on the FAOSTAT website and can be accessed at The raw data on FLW are available on the FAOSTAT website and can be accessed at All other data are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The statistical coding is available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request.


  1. Crippa, M. et al. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nat. Food 2, 198–209 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Xue, L. et al. Missing food, missing data? A critical review of global food losses and food waste data. Environ. Sci. Technol. 51, 6618–6633 (2017).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Roodhuyzen, D. M. A., Luning, P. A., Fogliano, V. & Steenbekkers, L. P. A. Putting together the puzzle of consumer food waste: towards an integral perspective. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 68, 37–50 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Bernstad Saraiva Schott, A. & Andersson, T. Food waste minimization from a life-cycle perspective. J. Environ. Manage. 147, 219–226 (2015).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Tong, H. et al. A comparative life cycle assessment on four waste-to-energy scenarios for food waste generated in eateries. Appl. Energy 225, 1143–1157 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Gustafsson, J., Cederberg, C., Sonesson, U. & Emanuelsson, A. The methodology of the FAO study: "Global Food Losses and Food Waste-extent, causes and prevention"-FAO, 2011. (SIK Institutet för livsmedel och bioteknik, 2013).

  7. Yokokawa, N., Kikuchi-Uehara, E., Amasawa, E., Sugiyama, H. & Hirao, M. Environmental analysis of packaging-derived changes in food production and consumer behavior. J. Ind. Ecol. 23, 1253–1263 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Scherhaufer, S., Moates, G., Hartikainen, H., Waldron, K. & Obersteiner, G. Environmental impacts of food waste in Europe. Waste Manage. 77, 98–113 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Hodge, K. L., Levis, J. W., DeCarolis, J. F. & Barlaz, M. A. Systematic evaluation of industrial, commercial, and institutional food waste management strategies in the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol. 50, 8444–8452 (2016).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Slorach, P. C., Jeswani, H. K., Cuéllar-Franca, R. & Azapagic, A. Environmental sustainability of anaerobic digestion of household food waste. J. Environ. Manage. 236, 798–814 (2019).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Corrado, S. & Sala, S. Food waste accounting along global and European food supply chains: state of the art and outlook. Waste Manage. 79, 120–131 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Liu, J., Lundqvist, J., Weinberg, J. & Gustafsson, J. Food losses and waste in China and their implication for water and land. Environ. Sci. Technol. 47, 10137–10144 (2013).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Springmann, M. et al. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature 562, 519–525 (2018).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Lipinski, B. SDG Target 12.3 on Food Loss and Waste: 2020 Progress Report (World Resources Institute, 2020).

  15. Le Quéré, C. et al. Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement. Nat. Clim. Change 10, 647–653 (2020).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Xu, X. et al. Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods. Nat. Food 2, 724–732 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Food Wastage Footprint Impacts on Natural Resources (FAO, 2013).

  18. Poore, J. & Nemecek, T. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360, 987–992 (2018).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Abdel-Basset, M., Manogaran, G. & Mohamed, M. Internet of Things (IoT) and its impact on supply chain: a framework for building smart, secure and efficient systems. Future Gener. Comput. Syst. 86, 614–628 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Misra, N. N. et al. IoT, big data and artificial intelligence in agriculture and food industry. IEEE Internet Things J. (2020).

  21. Zavala-Alcívar, A., Verdecho, M.-J. & Alfaro-Saiz, J.-J. Assessing and selecting sustainable and resilient suppliers in agri-food supply chains using artificial intelligence: a short review. In Camarinha-Matos, L.M., Afsarmanesh, H., Ortiz, A. (eds) Boosting Collaborative Networks 4.0. PRO-VE 2020. IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology, vol 598. 501–510 (Springer 2020).

  22. Alfian, G. et al. Improving efficiency of RFID-based traceability system for perishable food by utilizing IoT sensors and machine learning model. Food Control 110, 107016 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Wang, Y., Levis, J. W. & Barlaz, M. A. An assessment of the dynamic global warming impact associated with long-term emissions from landfills. Environ. Sci. Technol. 54, 1304–1313 (2020).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Davison, T. M., Black, J. L. & Moss, J. F. Red meat—an essential partner to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Anim. Front. 10, 14–21 (2020).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  25. Nordahl, S. L. et al. Life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and human health trade-offs of organic waste management strategies. Environ. Sci. Technol. 54, 9200–9209 (2020).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Neugebauer, M. & Sołowiej, P. The use of green waste to overcome the difficulty in small-scale composting of organic household waste. J. Clean. Prod. 156, 865–875 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Bennetzen, E. H., Smith, P. & Porter, J. R. Decoupling of greenhouse gas emissions from global agricultural production: 1970–2050. Glob. Change Biol. 22, 763–781 (2016).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. Davis, K. F., Downs, S. & Gephart, J. A. Towards food supply chain resilience to environmental shocks. Nat. Food 2, 54–65 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Grunert, K. G., Hieke, S. & Wills, J. Sustainability labels on food products: consumer motivation, understanding and use. Food Policy 44, 177–189 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Mok, W. K., Tan, Y. X. & Chen, W. N. Technology innovations for food security in Singapore: a case study of future food systems for an increasingly natural resource-scarce world. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 102, 155–168 (2020).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. Hanning, I. B., O’Bryan, C. A., Crandall, P. G. & Ricke, S. C. Food safety and food security. Nat. Educ. Knowl. 3, 9 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  32. WBG (World Bank Group, 2020).

  33. Nakicenovic, N. et al. Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).

  34. Li, M. et al. Global food-miles account for nearly 20% of total food-systems emissions. Nat. Food 3, 445–453 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Mc Carthy, U. et al. Global food security—issues, challenges and technological solutions. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 77, 11–20 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. D’Odorico, P., Carr, J. A., Laio, F., Ridolfi, L. & Vandoni, S. Feeding humanity through global food trade. Earth’s Future 2, 458–469 (2014).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  37. Tichenor, N. E., Peters, C. J., Norris, G. A., Thoma, G. & Griffin, T. S. Life cycle environmental consequences of grass-fed and dairy beef production systems in the northeastern United States. J. Clean. Prod. 142, 1619–1628 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Forouhi, N. G. & Unwin, N. Global diet and health: old questions, fresh evidence, and new horizons. Lancet 393, 1916–1918 (2019).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. Springmann, M. et al. Mitigation potential and global health impacts from emissions pricing of food commodities. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 69–74 (2017).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  40. Foong, A., Pradhan, P., Frör, O. & Kropp, J. P. Adjusting agricultural emissions for trade matters for climate change mitigation. Nat. Commun. 13, 3024 (2022).

    Article  ADS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  41. Pradhan, P. et al. Urban food systems: how regionalization can contribute to climate change mitigation. Environ. Sci. Technol. 54, 10551–10560 (2020).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. FAOSTAT (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2020).

  43. UN M49 (United Nations Statistics Division, 1999).

  44. Xue, L. et al. China’s food loss and waste embodies increasing environmental impacts. Nat. Food 2, 519–528 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Food Loss and Waste Database (FAO, 2022);

  46. Zhang, H. & Matsuto, T. Mass and element balance in food waste composting facilities. Waste Manage. 30, 1477–1485 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  47. Kaza, S., Yao, L., Bhada-Tata, P. & Van Woerden, F. What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050 (World Bank, 2018).

Download references


We thank the Jiangsu Special Project for Introducing Foreign Talents (grant no. BX2019015, K.Y.) and the Key Achievement Cultivation Plan Project of Nanjing Forestry University (K.Y.) for financial support.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



All authors provided content and reviewed, edited and approved this manuscript. J.Z., Z.L. and T.S. devised the methodology, collected and analysed the data, characterized the materials, wrote the Supplementary Information and reviewed and edited the manuscript. W.L. collected and analysed the data and reviewed and edited the manuscript. W.Z. collected and analysed the data. X.W. reviewed and edited the manuscript. X.F. devised the methodology, structuring and reviewed and edited the manuscript. H.T. conceptualized the project, devised the methodology and reviewed and edited the manuscript. K.Y. conceptualized the project, devised the methodology, wrote the manuscript and the Supplementary Information and reviewed and edited the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xunchang Fei, Huanhuan Tong or Ke Yin.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Food thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–13, Tables 1–8 and Discussion.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Supplementary Data 2

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Source data for Fig. 1.

Source Data Fig. 2

Source data for Fig. 2.

Source Data Fig. 3

Source data for Fig. 3.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhu, J., Luo, Z., Sun, T. et al. Cradle-to-grave emissions from food loss and waste represent half of total greenhouse gas emissions from food systems. Nat Food 4, 247–256 (2023).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing Anthropocene

Sign up for the Nature Briefing: Anthropocene newsletter — what matters in anthropocene research, free to your inbox weekly.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing: Anthropocene