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Food Wastage in the UK

25 Sep 2017 14:43:29

How many times have you thrown away food because it was a day past its expiry date? Or looked at a container of leftovers in the fridge and wondered if it was still edible? We’re all guilty of leaving food to go bad, or even throwing away perfectly edible food, just in case it has gone off. 


But it all adds up.


In fact, the average family with children in the UK throws away around £700 worth of edible food each year. That’s about the equivalent of one month’s rent on a single-bed flat in Bristol, per family. In total, it amounts to about 4.4 million tonnes of edible food going to waste. Government advisory charity WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) reports that this means about a quarter of the food which we purchase goes in the bin. Yikes!


To give you a taste, so to speak, of what that means, discarded, but still edible bananas alone cost us over £80 million a year. We Brits throw away 1.4 million of the things, just because they have a little bit of black or green on the skin. Of course, this is a huge and mounting problem, which has impact on both the environment and our purse strings. But is there anything we can do?


Global environmental impact of food waste


All this rubbish has a lasting impact on the environment. Aside from the obvious landfill space it takes up, it emits approximately 19 million tonnes of methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - while it decomposes. This in turn has an cumulative effect on global warming.


The problem, however, is not limited to the U.K. The carbon footprint (environmental cost) of growing, transporting, packaging and storing food products is high; roughly a quarter of global CO2 emissions is caused by agricultural processes, according the the U.S. Environmental Protection agency. For it then to be dumped in a waste site - without ever having been of use to anyone - is all the more damaging. 


What’s more, in food production, agriculture sucks up 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources. Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) research shows that producing just one kilogram of beef, for example, requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water.


Then, if you can imagine 1.4 billion football (soccer) pitches, you can imagine how much land is used to grow this wasted food world-wide - nearly 30% of the world’s agricultural area. Take into account the cost of farming this land, the amount of oil, gas, water and labour wasted, and you begin to understand the environmental and human cost.


U.K. government programmes and inquiries


Unfortunately, food wastage seems to be increasing - up 4.4 percent from 2012 to 2015. This is despite the British government’s efforts to educate the public on how to prevent generating food and general waste through programmes like the Waste Prevention Programme for England (2010-2015), Innovation in Waste Prevention Fund (2014), among others. 


A 2016-2017 government report highlighted that “food waste reduction in households had plateaued” and that it “was difficult to change the behaviours of households”. In the same report Deputy Director of  Waste and Recycling at Defra, Chris Preston, stated:


Not all consumers who waste food are the same. It will require looking at things like the top 10 wasted foods and why people waste particular types of foods, and targeting the interventions to make a difference for the future.


Consumer habits need to change


It’s clear that our waste problem is both cumulative and one of education. One brown banana is not an issue, 1.4 million is quite a different matter, however.


The cruel irony of all this waste, is that up to 4.2 million U.K. families go a day without food, on a regular basis, and 8.4 million families are going hungry or eating less than they should, according to data from the U.N. 


So what can be done?


The madness of it all is that simple habits like labelling and storing food correctly, planning meals, learning great recipes for leftovers, and utilizing storage space correctly can cut our family waste dramatically. 


  • If we only checked our cupboards for perishable goods before shopping, we could avoid buying too much and therefore wasting it.
  • If we labelled our leftover food containers with dates, we could avoid throwing it away “just in case”.
  • If we washed our fruits and berries right before we ate them, we could avoid mould issues. So only wash your fruit when you need to and it will last you longer.
  • If we learned what to do with the leftovers, we could avoid throwing more on our collective rubbish piles.
  • If we stopped and thought about what we buy in bulk, we could avoid throwing away expired food, because that doesn’t save anyone money - even if it appears to be economical at first glance. Of course, certain items don’t go off, so you can still save by looking for economy packs.

In general, people are used to living in small family groups and it’s extremely hard to imagine the impact we as individuals have on the environment. But once we can see the bigger picture, it’s clear that we have to take action. Not only would action benefit our bank balances, but it would impact our community and the rest of the world.  

Posted in Wowzr At Work Bright Ideas News By

Sam Cox