Food waste is arguably one of the most serious issues facing the developed world. In terms of environmental and social costs, a huge amount of resources is literally thrown in the bin by the average British family every week.
To find out more, Ilaria Bertini spoke with Emma Marsh, head of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign co-ordinated by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, also known as Wrap, about the extent of the problem and possible solutions.
This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Spending 2013.
Where does all our waste come from? Do we tend to buy more than what we need or is it just bad management of goods?
We waste almost 15m tonnes of food and drink in the UK every year – almost half of that comes from our homes and just 400,000 tonnes from the supermarket.
We throw away 4.2m tonnes of good food and drink every year from our homes, costing us £12.5 billion a year. That’s £200 for the average person, £470 for a typical family, rising to £700 for a family.
Almost half of that (£5.6 billion worth) didn’t even reach our dinner tables before it went in the bin. This is because it had either gone off or passed the date on the packaging. This included large amounts of bread, milk and potatoes.
Although we have made great progress since 2007 – reducing the amount of good food and drink we throw away by a massive 21% – there is still much more we can all do, even in those areas where there have already been big changes. There are certain things we could focus more on, for example understanding and checking ‘use by’ dates, and freezing food if it’s not going to be used before the date.
Who is more responsible for the issue: consumers or the retailers?
Retailers, brands and the wider food industry have a key role in this, helping to make it easier for us as individuals to waste less food for example through using best practice information on pack and communicating with their customers to raise awareness of the issue.
Wrap and Love Food Hate Waste support retailers and brands to do this through the Courtauld Commitment and have designed evidence based tools that are free-of-charge to help all partners deliver effective campaigns and behaviour change initiatives. Retailers and brands, as well as the hospitality industry have all committed to reduce their own food waste as part of the Courtauld Commitment and Hospitality and Food Service Agreement.
We have a central role too, though, as individuals, to reduce the amount of food we throw away. Whether that’s through better planning so that we only buy what we need, understanding our date labels and being in control of them, cooking just the right amount, storing food in the best way possible to keep it fresher for longer and making the most of leftovers and forgotten foods – a number of small acts makes a big difference.
What are the social and environmental costs of food waste?
It has a detrimental impact on the environment, wasting the materials, water and energy used in its production. Throwing away this 4.2m tonnes of good food and drink each year is responsible for the equivalent of 17m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). To put that into context, if we stopped wasting this good food and drink it would have the same environmental impact as taking one in four cars off UK roads.
Land is wasted every time we throw away food. For example an area almost the size of Wales would be required to produce all the food and drink that is subsequently thrown away by UK households
Wasted food is also responsible for around 4% of the UK total water footprint – after all, it takes 12 litres of water to produce just one tomato and 650 litres of water to produce one chicken breast.
And finally, reducing the amount of food and drink thrown away can contribute to a more resilient UK economy and food system.
If we don’t manage to change our behaviour, how will food supplies be impacted in the coming years when population is expected to drastically increase?
By 2050, there are projected to be 9 billion people with a fast expanding middle class. Food resource efficiency, in a world with a growing population, is crucial.
At Wrap, we think that by 2025 it could be possible to prevent up to another 15 million tonnes of avoidable household food waste. This means that food worth a staggering £45 billion could be saved.
If collectively, working together, we could do this, it would mean reducing avoidable UK food waste by half by 2025, compared to when we first started work in this area, in 2007. It won’t be easy but it is achievable if we act now to achieve it.
What steps could governments take and what can individuals and retailers do?
All of us – individuals, businesses, governments and community groups – can play a role in tackling food waste, and we have the tools and insights to make this happen.
Retailer and brands can continue to make it easier for us to waste less – simpler and effective labelling, and innovations to keep our food fresher for longer. Ongoing support and recognition of the issue as a clear priority, from governments to industry, local government et cetera is essential to ensure that we tackle the issue of food waste.
And as individuals, we can take action today. First find out if you waste food – most of us think we don’t but actually do. Keep a food waste diary and see what you waste, then take steps to tackle this.
Practical tips to avoid food waste
– When you get your bread home, split it into two – half in the bread bin (never the fridge) and half in the freezer (remembering to slice it if it isn’t already). By the end of the week, your bread is still perfect to toast straight from the freezer. Any crusts can be whizzed up in the blender to make breadcrumbs
– Always keep potatoes in a cool, dark place but never the fridge. Remember you can freeze mashed potato and also pre-freeze roasties. If you spot your potatoes are on the turn peel, boil for 5 minutes, cover in the fat/oil of your choice and freeze – then when you want roasties cook them in the oven from frozen
– Always keep milk in the fridge below 5 degrees – many of us have fridges with a higher temperature which reduce shelf life so don’t forget to check. If you’ve got loads of milk and a small amount of jam in the pot mix the two together for an instant milkshake
– Once your bag of salad leaves is open transfer to a Tupperware pot, lined with a sheet of kitchen towel, and seal – will last for 3-5 days longer
For more tips, recipes and inspiration to help you waste less and save money go to www.lovefoodhatewaste.com and pass the message on to friends, family, colleagues – together we can make a massive difference.
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