NEW YORK (AP) — Instead of finishing your leftovers, you let them spoil and buy takeout.

It’s a familiar routine for many – and indicative of habits that are contributing to a global problem of food waste that a new United Nations report says needs to be better measured so it can be tackled effectively.

The UN report estimates that 17% of the food produced globally each year is wasted. That’s 931 million metric tons (1.03 billion tons) of food.

Waste is much higher than previous reports have indicated, although direct comparisons are difficult due to different methodologies and a lack of robust data from many countries.

“Better measurement can lead to better management,” said Brian Roe, a food waste researcher at Ohio State University, who was not involved in the report.

Most of the waste – 61% – occurs in households, while foodservice accounts for 26% and retailers 13%, according to the UN. The UN is pushing to reduce food waste around the world, and researchers are also working on a waste assessment that includes food lost before it reaches consumers.

The authors note that the report seeks to offer a clearer view of the scale of a problem that has been difficult to assess, in the hope of prompting governments to invest in better monitoring.

“Many countries have yet to quantify their food waste, so they don’t understand the scale of the problem,” said Clementine O’Connor, of the UN Environment Program and co-author of the report.

Food waste has become a growing concern due to the environmental cost of production, including the land needed to raise crops and animals and the greenhouse gas emissions produced along the way. Experts say better waste tracking is key to finding ways to alleviate the problem, such as programs to divert inedible waste for use as animal feed or fertilizer.

The report revealed that household food waste is not limited to high-income countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Roe from Ohio State noted that food is sometimes wasted in poor countries without reliable household refrigeration. In richer countries, people may eat more in restaurants, which means food waste is simply moved from the home to restaurants.

Roe said cultural norms and policies could also contribute to litter in the home — like massive packaging, “buy one, get one free” offers or a lack of composting programs.

That’s why broader system changes are essential to help reduce household waste, said Chris Barrett, an agricultural economist at Cornell University.

For example, Barrett said, people can throw food away because of a date on the product — even though those dates don’t always indicate when a food is unsafe to eat. “Food waste is the consequence of sensible decisions made by people acting on the best information available,” he said.

To clarify the meaning of labeling dates, US regulators have urged food manufacturers to be more consistent in their use. They note that labels such as “Sell before”, “Best before” and “Enjoy before” could encourage people to prematurely discard food, even though some labels are only meant to indicate when quality might decline.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that a family of four wastes about $1,500 on food each year. But accurately measuring food waste is difficult for a variety of reasons, including data availability, said USDA food researcher Jean Buzby, adding that the improved metrics are part of a government plan to reduce the waste.

Richard Swannell, co-author of the UN report, said food was generally more valued even in wealthier countries just a few generations ago because people often couldn’t afford to waste it . Now, he said, awareness of the scale of food waste around the world could help bring attitudes back to that time.

“Food is too important to waste,” he said.