Food waste is an issue that has received considerable attention across the world over recent years. We all throw away more food than we ought to but few of us recognise this and fewer admit to it. 1.3 billion tonnes of food (that is, one–third of food produced annually) is wasted or lost every year.
About 18–20 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the UK costing an average household about £60 per month. More than 50% of the total food waste comes from our homes making households the biggest culprits.
We throw away approximately 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes annually, the majority of which could have been eaten. There are two main reasons accounting for food waste: either we cook or prepare too much mostly because we buy more than we need or we fail to use it in time. Other key contributors to food waste are the use of unnecessarily strict sell–by dates, promotional offers such as buy one get one free, poor storage and the consumer demand for products which look cosmetically perfect.
What exactly is the problem?
Aside the huge costs to the economy, wasted food is a major contributor to climate change. The energy, fuel, water and time it takes to grow, harvest, package, transport and cook food is all wasted. The generation of greenhouse gas emissions produced by food that is decomposing on landfills coupled with the transport of food (that is ultimately thrown away) is harmful to the environment. According to Wrap, if all avoidable food waste in 2012 had been prevented, then the UK would have made a carbon saving that would be the equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road. In the UK, every 1 tonne of food waste thrown away needlessly is responsible for 4.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
What types of food do we waste the most?
The foods we waste the most are fresh vegetables and salads, fresh fruits, drink, bakery items such as bread and cake and dairy products.
- 18% Fresh vegetables and salads are the biggest food waste as they are usually not used in time or are served too much. Potatoes are regularly thrown away by households as we cook more than we actually need.
- 17% Once opened, juices, smoothies and soft drinks have a very short shelf life and often go to waste.
- 11% Bakery items like bread are the most wasted food in the UK, with 398,000 tonnes (equivalent to £700 million) thrown away each year.
- 10% Dairy and eggs not used in time are often thrown away.
- 10% Leftovers from prepared meals usually head straight to the bin.
- 10% We waste 86 million chickens a year! Meat and fish not used in time and served too much are wasted.
- 8% Fresh fruit has a very short shelf life and we waste 1.4 million bananas a year.
Why should we Reduce Food Waste?
- Saves money from having to buy less food.
- Helps to conserve energy and resources that would have been required in growing, manufacturing, transporting and selling.
- Helps in building communities as untouched foods (which would have gone to waste) are donated to those in need.
- Reduces greenhouse gas (methane, carbon dioxide) emissions from agricultural production and from landfills.