EPA waste data release, 27 July 2023. Latest reference year 2021. (Data subject to Eurostat validation).
This data release presents key statistics on food waste in Ireland in 2021.
Food waste is a global problem that has environmental, social and economic consequences. More than one quarter of the food produced globally is wasted. It is a significant contributor to climate change, as food loss and waste contribute to 8-10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Growing, processing and transporting food all use significant amounts of resources such as land, water and energy.
The Irish Government has committed to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030, which is in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals. The EU will also set targets to reduce food waste by the end of 2023.
The European Commission defines food waste as any food that becomes waste under the following conditions:
EU Member States are required to report the amount of food waste generated along the following stages of the food supply chain, see Figure 1.
The amount of food waste generated by each stage in 2021 is presented in Figure 2 below.
Figure 1. Food Supply Chain
The EPA estimates that Ireland generated 753,000 tonnes (t) of food waste in 2021.
The amount of food waste produced at various stages along the food supply chain is presented in Table 1 (tonnes) and Figure 2 (percentage).
Table 1. Estimated Food Waste Generated in Ireland in 2021
|Stage of Food Supply Chain||Tonnes of Food Waste Generated (reference year 2021)||Percentage of Total Food Waste|
|Manufacturing and Processing||215,000||29%|
|Retail and Distribution||75,000||10%|
|Restaurants and Food Service||189,000||25%|
Open in Excel: Table 1 Food waste 2021 (XLS 10KB)Open in CSV : Table 1 Food waste 2021 (CSV 1KB)
Households were the biggest producers of food waste, accounting for 29% of the total in 2021 (221,000 tonnes). The food and beverage manufacturing and processing sector was the second biggest producer of food waste, accounting for an estimated 29% of all food waste produced in Ireland in 2021 (215,000 tonnes).
The objective of annual food waste reporting is to enable policy makers to monitor food waste and support food waste prevention measures, in particular edible food waste prevention. EU member states were obliged to report the amount of food waste generated for reference year 2021 by the 30 June 2023.
Irish households threw away an estimated 221,000 tonnes of food (29% of total) in 2021. This includes food waste collected from households, brought to civic amenity sites and disposed in home composters.
This is equal about 120 kg of food waste per household or 44 kg per person (that’s about half the weight of a full brown bin).
Food waste costs the average Irish household about €60 per month or €700 per year. That’s an annual national cost of €1.29 billion.
The organic waste bin (brown bin) roll out to households has increased the composting and anaerobic digestion rate of food waste. In 2021, 69% of Irish households who had a kerbside bin collection service had a brown bin (this includes households who share a bin). Further information on the proportion of brown bin waste collected in each local authority area is presented on our Household waste statistics webpage.
The food and beverage manufacturing and processing sector in Ireland generated an estimated 215,000 tonnes of food waste (29% of total) in 2021.
Food waste from this sector includes: foods unsuitable for consumption or processing (e.g. unsafe products or product returns), process wastes (e.g. wastes arising during processing & cleaning) and some animal tissues waste which are disposed as waste.
However, a significant proportion of animal tissue and other processing ‘wastes’ are processed into by-products such pet food, animal feed and fertiliser, and are therefore not counted as food waste in our statistics.
Restaurants and food services generated approximately 189,000 tonnes of food waste (25% of total) in 2021. This sector includes food waste collected from hotels, B&Bs, pubs and restaurants, cafes, takeaways and canteens.
The Reducing Commercial Food Waste in Ireland report published in 2019, found that over 66% of food waste from the food services sector is avoidable (i.e. edible food). It found that hotels have the highest level of food waste and vegetables are the most commonly wasted food type (11%), followed by bread (9%), meat (8%) and potatoes (7%).
The annual cost of food waste to this sector is estimated to be in excess of €300 million.
An estimated 53,000 tonnes of food waste (7% of total) was generated at the primary production stage in Ireland in 2021.
Of this, horticulture accounted for the largest share. The main cause of food waste at the primary production stage is that products are not saleable as outside quality specifications or lack of customer demand.
Further information on the nature and extent of food loss and waste from primary production in Ireland is provided in the EPA funded research report Food Loss and Waste from Farming, Fishing & Aquaculture in Ireland published in 2022.
The retail and distribution sector accounted for approximately 75,000 tonnes of food waste (10% of total) in 2021.
This sector includes food waste from supermarkets and smaller grocery shops, service stations and general retail, as well as food waste generated by food & beverage wholesale companies.
Retailers may dispose of food products which are spoiled or damaged. An EPA-funded research report on Reducing Commercial Food Waste in Ireland published in 2019 found that vegetables are the most commonly wasted food type in supermarkets (20%), followed by fruit (16%), bread (15%) and meat (11%).
Some surplus food from retailers is redistributed to help feed people which prevents the food from becoming waste. Food Cloud redistributed 1,439 tonnes of surplus food from this sector in 2021 to charities which help feed people living in food poverty.
In line with the food waste hierarchy (Figure 3 below), prevention is the best way to address food waste. A National Food Waste Prevention Roadmap was published by the Irish Government in 2022 with details of actions to halve Ireland’s food waste by 2030.
Robust and consistent measurement of food waste is the first step in food waste prevention, as it provides quality data to monitor of food waste generation, support food waste prevention initiatives and report on progress to reduction targets.
The EPA’s food waste prevention programme is implemented through the Agency’s Circular Economy Programme. It aims to raise awareness of food waste and target behavioural change through a number of activities including:
After prevention, redistribution of surplus food is the next preferred option in the Food Waste Hierarchy (Figure 3) and is an important way to avoid food becoming waste and to support charities who help feed people living in food poverty. In 2021, Food Cloud redistributed a total of 3,162 tonnes of food donated by Irish food producers, distributers and retailers, supporting 650 community groups.
Even if all ‘avoidable’ food waste was eliminated entirely, there will still be a need to manage ‘unavoidable’ food waste such as peel, bones and animal tissue. Therefore, it is important to ensure any food waste that arises is segregated and separately collected so that it can be treated by composting or anaerobic digestion (Figure 3), rather than being mixed general waste and disposed to landfill or incinerated.
Ireland’s implementation of the Food Waste Regulations since 2010 and the associated roll out of brown bins to commercial and household premises, along with associated awareness raising activities to promote better segregation, have contributed to an upward trend in the quantity of food waste being separately collected and treated by composting/anaerobic digestion.
However, there is still room for improvement as a large proportion of Ireland’s food waste continues to be disposed of in mixed waste bins. New EU waste legislation means that the separate collection of biowaste will be mandatory from the end of 2023.
 During 2010-2016, global food loss and waste contributed 8-10% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions(medium confidence).” Source: (Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, (2019)) https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/.
 Under the revised Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) and Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/2000, EU Member States are obliged to report the amount of food waste generated in 2022 for reference year 2020. The Irish Food Waste Statistics for 2020 have been collated in accordance with the food waste reporting methodology is laid out in Commission Delegated Decision (EU) 2019/1597 (2019) and the reporting format is defined in Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/2000 (2019).
European Commission, Eurostat (June, 2022) Guidance on reporting of data on food waste and food waste prevention according to Commission implementing Decision (EU) 2019/2000