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The impact of refrigeration on food losses and associated greenhouse gas emissions throughout the supply chain

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Full Publication Date
May 28, 2024

One-third of food produced globally is wasted while approximately 800 million people suffer from hunger. Meanwhile, food losses produce approximately 8% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This study develops a food loss estimation tool to assess how improved access to the cold chain could impact food loss and its associated GHG emissions for seven food types in seven regions. This study estimates that poor cold chain infrastructure could be responsible for up to 620 million metric tons (Mmt) of food loss, responsible for 1.8 GtCO2-eq annually. Utilizing fully optimized cold chains could save over 100 Mmt of fruit and vegetable loss in South & Southeast Asia and over 700 Mmt CO2-eq in Sub-Saharan Africa. Developing more localized, less industrialized ('farm-to-table') food supply chains in both industrialized and non-industrialized contexts may save greater quantities of food than optimized cold chains. Utilizing localized supply chains could save over 250 Mmt of roots and tubers globally (over 100 Mmt more savings than those of an optimized cold chain) and reduce GHG emissions from meat losses in industrialized regions by over 300 Mmt CO2-eq. Due to the differences in the environmental intensity of food types, cold chain investments that prioritize reducing overall food losses will have very different outcomes than those that prioritize reducing GHG emissions.

Research Areas
Food Systems and Consumer Products

Refrigeration, Food losses, Greenhouse gas emissions, Cold chain, Supply chain, Food security, Sustainable development goals, Food waste, Post-harvest losses, Regional optimization, Localized supply chains, Industrialized regions, Non-industrialized regions, Environmental impact, Food system efficiency

Publication Type
Journal Article
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Full Citation

Friedman-Heiman, A., & Miller, S. A. (2024). The impact of refrigeration on food losses and associated greenhouse gas emissions throughout the supply chain. Environmental Research Letters, 19(6), 064038.