Written by Jennifer O'Mara
In 2015, over 4000 tonnes of avoidable food was wasted in the UK, an increase of 2.8% per person per year. Half of which was food not used in time with a further 40% thrown away. One reason for this was due to over cooking of food by preparing too much and not eating the leftovers. As a result, fresh vegetables are contributing to 3 million tonnes of food waste per year (1).
Food waste can be divided into three categories; avoidable, possibly unavoidable and unavoidable. Avoidable household food waste (HHFW) is defined as food thrown away due to food going past its best date which was once edible but is no longer . Possibly unavoidable are ‘parts of food that are considered edible’ for example skins of fruits and vegetables(2). Unavoidable food waste includes items which are not edible under any circumstances such as egg shells.
The Department for Environment, food and Rural affairs (DEFRA) set a target to reduce HHFW in the UK to 50% by 2025. Five years on the 2020 report by DEFRA shows a 7% reduction in food waste per person and 1.4 metric tonnes in the home which is equivalent to 1400 bags of sugar (3).
What is the issue with HHFW?
6.6 million tonnes of household food waste are thrown away annually with the number of foods wasted in the UK totalling 9.5 million, adding environmental strain on natural resources. In the UK, the effects of climate change are evident with changing rainfall patterns and warmer summers affecting farming and crop growth, producing higher CO2 emissions (4)(3). One third of food which is lost through waste is avoidable further emitting 30% Greenhouse gases and increasing carbon footprint (6)(5).
Avoidable staples such as 350,000 tonnes of bread, 320,000 tonnes of potatoes and 290,000 tonnes of milk are actively wasted due to their readily availableness and low price(21).Consumer uncertainty surrounding food knowledge and safety cause edible food to be thrown away (7). This not only hinders the UK’s opportunity at achieving the Courtauld Commitment, but each UK household are losing on average £500(8).
Why is this an important topic?
An increasing number of consumers are buying and throwing away perfectly consumable food which are contributing to the £30 million worth of food ending up as waste, leading to an increase in food scarcity and increased food prices(9). Without intervening food waste could increase to 1.1m tonnes by 2025 causing food shortages in everyday items such as fruit and vegetables, 60% of which could be avoided(10).Changing food behaviours is necessary as many consumers put left overs in the fridge to consume the following day, yet many of these leftovers are often forgotten about turning to avoidable food waste. 22% of fresh food that is wasted is avoidable as consumers would rather eat something fresh than re-use the leftovers(12).
Are there any environmental impacts?
Every year the UK redistributes less than 10,000 tonnes of surplus food worth £19.6m from the retail sector. 262million people could be fed helping 4,266 people who sleep rough every night and are food insecure if the food system was stronger(11)(12). If food is continually wasted due to behaviours or lack of confidence, adding further strain on the economy. Not meeting food waste targets will impact natural resources meaning by 2050, the UK will need three times more resources to help cope with global growth in population which is expected to reach 2 billion(13).Farmers will be on demand needing 70% more feed with a water shortage of 40% and farming methods more intense and less sustainable(14).
WRAP reported that food waste had significantly decreased at the beginning of the pandemic by 20% (April 2020) in comparison to pre lockdown which was 34% in 2019. A re-evaluation in June showed that food waste levels had slightly risen to 27% with only three out of ten consumers understanding the link between climate change and food waste. This is significantly lower than any other sector (15).
What has been done and what can we do to help?
Date labels are often misinterpreted causing edible food to be wasted due to uncertainly around food safety. Confusion arises around “use by” and “best before” with edible high-risk foods such as meat and dairy thrown away after the best before. The use by date is used to express the level of food safety whereby food can be eaten until the use by date but not after. The best before date indicates the quality of food and that food will deteriorate after the specified date but food is still safe for consumption (16)(17). WRAP and LFHW are running campaigns to make reducing food waste easy. Their campaigns include chill the fridge out, an online tool which educates consumers on fridge temperature and maintenance in order to reduce food waste. The online portion planner enables you to plan meals in advance by provides guidance on serving sizes to prevent food waste having helped prevent 130,000 tonnes of food waste (18).
Avoidable HHFW is an ongoing issue as 1.4 million tonnes of avoidable fresh produce is wasted every year causing a growth in food insecurity, poor diet quality leading to poor health outcomes adding a strain to struggling health services (19). By targeting behavioural attitudes and encouraging meal planning through the love food hate waste online meal planner, consumers will be more aware of the amount of food needed per household and how much to cook, preventing over buying and cooking thus reducing food waste(6). This will reduce carbon footprint and water waste while preventing an increase in food waste. Working across systems can help the UK to reduce avoidable HHFW while achieving better nutrition outcomes by enhancing policies which promote this (20). 821 million people in the world don’t have enough food even though there’s enough food on the planet to feed everyone – yet in the UK there is 400 tonnes of avoidable food wasted every year, we need to do better to reduce this problem (22)(1).
(1) Quested, T. and Johnson, H. (2009). Household food and drink waste in the UK : final report. Household food and drink waste in the UK : final report. Available from: https://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Household_food_and_drink_waste_in_the_UK_-_report.pdf .
(2) Waste and Resources Action Programme (2017). Household Food Waste in the UK, 2015. Available from: https://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Household_food_waste_in_the_UK_2015_Report.pdf .
(3)Courtauld Commitment 2025 Milestone Progress Report. [online] WRAP. Available at:<https://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Courtauld_Commitment_2025_Milestone_Progress_Report.pdf>
(4)Met office. ‘Effects of climate change Available from: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/climate-change/effects-of-climate-change .
(5)House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (2015). Waste Management in England Fourth Report .Westminster, London: Available from https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmenvfru/241/241.pdf.
(6)Government Office for Science. ‘Food waste: A response to the policy challenge’(2017).Available from: from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/643557/food-waste-policy-challenge-response_-_FINAL.pdf
(7) Quested T, Johnson H. ‘Household food and drink waste in the UK’. (2009); Available from: https://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Household_food_and_drink_waste_in_the_UK_-_report.pdf
(8) Waste and Resources Action Programme 2020. Citizen Food Waste Prevention | WRAP UK. [online] Available from: <https://www.wrap.org.uk/food-drink/citizen-food-waste>
(9) Waste and Resources Action Programme (2020). Food surplus and waste in the UK – key facts .Available from https://wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Food_%20surplus_and_waste_in_the_UK_key_facts_Jan_2020.pdf
(10) Houses of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (2017). Food waste in England Eighth Report of Session 2016–17. Westminster, London: Available from https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmenvfru/429/429.pdf.
(11)Homelessness Link ’Sleeping rough UK’. Available from https://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-attachments/Homeless%20Link%20-%20analysis%20of%20rough%20sleeping%20statistics%20for%20England%202019.pdf
(12)House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee C (2017).’ Food waste in England. Eighth Report of Session 2016-17’. Available from:https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmenvfru/429/429.pdf.
(13) House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (2014). ‘Growing a circular economy: Ending the throwaway society’. Westminster, London: Available from: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmenvaud/214/214.pdf
(14)House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee B (2015). Food security: demand, consumption and waste .Westminster, London: Available from https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmenvfru/703/703.pdf.
(15) Waste and Resources Action Programme 2020. Food Waste And Covid-19 – Survey 3: Life In Flux. [online] Available at: https://wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Food-waste-and-Covid-19–Survey-3-Life-in-Flux.pdf
(16) Graham-Rowe, E., Jessop, D.C., Sparks, P. (2015). ‘Predicting household food waste reduction using an extended theory of planned behaviour’. Resources, Conservation & Recycling. 101 194-202. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2015.05.020 .
(17)Hebrok, M. and Boks, C. (2017). ‘Household food waste: Drivers and potential intervention points for design – An extensive review’. Journal of Cleaner Production. 151 380-392. Available from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.03.069.
(18) Love Food Hate Waste. 2020. Chill The Fridge Out. [online] Available from: https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/article/chill-fridge-out
(19)Evidence and Network on UK Household Food Insecurity (2019). ‘Household food insecurity in the UK’. Available from: https://enuf.org.uk/household-food-insecurity-uk
(20)Waste and Resources Action Programme (2018). Courtauld Commitment 2025. Courtauld Commitment 2025. Available from: https://wrap.org.uk/food-drink/business-food-waste/history-courtauld.
(21) Guard Ailsa (2020), ‘Love Food Hate Waste’. [PowerPoint presentation]. Module Code: 7HMNT016W.2
(22) United Nations (2021), ’Global Issues- Food’. Available from: https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/food/index.html