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Around a third of all food produced for human consumption is either wasted or lost.
Food waste is generally understood as food that is fit for human consumption which is discarded, perhaps because it passed its sell by date. However, food loss is also an important part of the food waste story. Food loss is referred to as the decrease in quality of food originally intended for us to eat. This can be due to inefficiencies in supply chains. Fresh produce that doesn’t meet quality standards, perhaps for being misshapen or marked, also often never makes it to our supermarkets.
In 2015 the member countries of the UN signed The Sustainable Development Agenda which includes 17 goals to end poverty and protect the planet. Goal 12, Responsible Production and Consumption, sets out to halve per capita food waste from retail and consumers by 2030, as well as reduce the impact of food loss during production. Yet, despite UK food waste dropping by 15% from 2007 to 2018, the 2019 progress report highlights that across the board we’re not doing enough to improve resource efficiency and curb material waste.
Below, we share food waste facts that help illustrate why it’s time to take note and how we can reduce our own impact at home.
Food Waste Facts
- Around a third of all food produced for human consumption is either wasted or lost – FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) ‘Food wastage footprint‘ report
- In 2015, 10.2 million tonnes of food was wasted ‘post farm gate’ in the UK from manufacturing/processing, food service and hospitality, retail and our own homes, equating to roughly 156 kg per person per year – WRAP
- In 2018, an estimated 9.5 million tonnes of food waste was created in the UK. This represents a 15% overall reduction since 2007 (previously 11.2 million tonnes) and a 18% reduction for household food waste alone – WRAP
- 70% of ‘post farm gate’ waste in the UK comes from household waste (6.6 million tonnes) – WRAP
- The 4.5 million tonnes of food that is thrown away by households (that is edible) is worth £15 billion, or £60 a month for an average family with kids – WRAP
- An area the size of Wales would be needed to produce the amount of food and drink wasted in the UK – WRAP
- 2012 estimates suggest we throw away 28% of the fresh vegetables and salad we buy – WRAP
- Each day, we bin 20 million slices of bread and 4.4 million whole potatoes, according to 2012 estimates – WRAP
Why Does Food Waste Matter?
- Around 820 million people don’t have enough to eat – this equates to roughly one in every nine people – FAO
- Despite improvements between 2005 and 2015, the number of undernourished people has started to rise again – FAO
- The land used for uneaten food production equates to roughly 1.4 billion hectares, or almost 30% of the world’s agricultural land area – FAO’s ‘Food wastage footprint’ report
- Food waste is the third largest CO2 emitter after the USA and China – FAO’s ‘Food wastage footprint’ report
- By 2050 the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion and will require a 70% increase in food production, despite already apparent signs of ecosystems being used unsustainably and facing degradation – FAO’s ‘How to feed the world in 2050’ report
- Between 2007 and 2018 the reduction in UK food waste led to savings of 5.3 million tonnes of CO2e a year – the equivalent of taking 2.4 million cars off the road for a year – WRAP
How to Reduce Food Waste
1. Don’t Overbuy
Make lists of meals to cook and the ingredients you need before going shopping. Always check what you’ve got in the fridge and cupboards, first. It sounds simple, but it helps prevent you buying more than you need which can only be good on the wallet, too.
Visiting zero waste shops is another great idea to not only buy just the quantities of ingredients you need (great for more unusual ingredients that tend to sit at the back of the cupboard), but also reduce your plastic packaging waste.
2. Check Use-By Dates
Best before dates are used to indicate when produce is generally at its best, whereas, use-by dates are to advise when the food goes off. Unless you plan to freeze it, only buy items which you can prepare before the use-by dates.
3. Love your Leftovers
If you only need part of an ingredient in your recipe, plan ahead on how to use your leftovers. For fruits and vegetables that are on the edge, smoothies, soups and stocks can be a useful way to use them up.
4. Keep Things Organised
Rotate your cupboards so older ingredients are always ready to be used first – this follows the FIFO, or ‘first in first out’ method.
In addition, ensure you’re storing your fresh food correctly. For example, some fruits and vegetables release more ethylene gas than others which promotes ripening. This means that if you store your bananas, tomatoes, pears, avocados and green onions with ethylene-sensitive produce like apples, leafy greens, potatoes, peppers or berries, they might go off more quickly.
5. Embrace the Wonky Veg
Many misshapen fruits and vegetables are discarded before they reach supermarket shelves, despite being perfectly edible. While some supermarkets are noticing the demands to curb food waste and offering some wonky vegetables among their selection, food box start-ups, such as Oddbox in London, are saving fruit and vegetable ‘rejects’ and other surplus food and sends it all straight to your door.
Looking for more inspiration on being more sustainable at home? Read our tips on eco-friendly swaps, eating seasonally and our introduction to slow food. Or, try our guide on how to shop slow and embrace conscious consumerism.