Food Waste in Britain

Britain’s food waste problem is one of a few halves. According to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign almost 50 per cent of the 15 million tonnes of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.

An estimated 89 million tonnes of food are wasted every year in the EU, which is expected to rise to around 126 million tonnes by 2020 if no action is taken. Of all EU members, the UK is by far the most culpable. We throw away more food from our homes than packaging in the UK every year and there are two primary reasons why; we either cook too much or don’t use food in time.

Which makes hash a potential solution.

Who is to Blame?

Households. A House of Lords inquiry found that, contrary to common belief, UK supermarkets contribute to just 1.3 per cent of all food waste in the UK. Hospitality and food service contribute to 14 per cent and food and drink manufacturing to 39 per cent, but the largest portion is attributed to household waste (42 per cent).

We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, with potatoes among the most wasted food by quantity, while salads are thrown away in the greatest proportion.

Some food and drink waste is unavoidable. Tea bags, for example, have a singular lifespan. But most food waste is preventable. The problem is that we’ve become so touchy about what we can and cannot eat. Potatoes go in the bin as soon as they’ve started sprouting new potatoes, we don’t dare go within a day of a sell-by date and our fridges are constantly being cleared out to make room for the next batch of food.

A report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers highlighted that unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, promotional offers such as buy-one-get-one-free, consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food and poor storage are key contributors to the food waste problem.

What Impact is it Having?

The most notable impact is on the wallet. Wasting food costs the average household £470 a year, rising to £700 for a family with children, the equivalent of around £60 a month. But there a wider and graver implications.

Food waste has a significant impact on the environment. If the UK is to meet its international targets on climate change and meet obligations under the European Landfill Directive to reduce biodegradable waste going to landfill it must cut unnecessary demand and the amount households are throwing out.

If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the benefit to the planet would be the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.

What’s the Solution?

Plans under the last Labour government’s “War on Waste” went some way to limiting sell-by labels on food, creating new food packaging sizes and unveiling five flagship anaerobic digestion plants. But the most significant development to arise from that era is the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign.

Brought to you by WRAP, Love Food Hate Waste “aims to raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste and help us take action. It shows that by doing some easy practical everyday things in the home we can all waste less food, which will ultimately benefit our purses and the environment too.”

The campaign has already prevented 137,000 tonnes of waste and, through the help it has given to over two million households, has made savings of £300 million.