The UK throws away one-third of edible food, and as consumers we can do better.
Food waste is a worldwide issue. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted throughout the supply chain, from farms to our fridges. At 1.2 billion tonnes of food, that’s enough sustenance to feed three billion people (FAO 2019). On average 821 million people go hungry every year (UN 2019), therefore, the food we waste as a global community could end world hunger nearly four times over.
Typically, food produced in the developing world is often lost at the front of the food chain during production processing. From inefficient harvesting practices to inadequate infrastructure, a significant portion of edible food for consumers is thrown away. Predictably, you would be correct in assuming industrialised nations have a much more efficient process, with a significantly lower percentage of food lost in the production stage. However, the food we lose in the Global North is not a concern, it is the food we waste at the end of the chain which is the worry.
From marketplaces, retailers, restaurants and our own homes, the developed world waste 680 million tonnes of food a year, a figure equal to the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (FAO). Unfortunately, we as consumers are complicit in this harrowing figure, and we can do better.
As consumers we store food improperly, overbuy on our weekly shop, take ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates too strictly, let our eyes get bigger than our stomachs and often forget to eat leftovers from the night before. The most concerning problem with this throwaway society we have developed over time is the lack of government legislation to change such bad habits. As a result, we suffer no consequence from wasting food every week and therefore we must take it upon ourselves in order to make a change.
Here’s what you can do to help!
Don’t over buy
Keep track of what you buy and actually use each week and make a note of food you typically waste each month. WRAP suggests taking a ‘shelfie’ of your cupboard and fridge to remind you what’s there. The culture of a ‘weekly shop’ is a dangerous way to play with your pocket as food is often left uneaten.
Check the labels
Only buy what you can use before it expires. If you are buying food to eat within the next few days purchase items that have a ‘use-by’ date close to that day. As a society we are obsessed with purchasing the freshest produce, which leaves perfectly good food on the shelves until they get thrown away.
Alternatively, if you plan to cook a meal later on in the week, ensure it’s use-by date will last!
Really think about what you would like to cook for that week, and what will you do with the leftovers?
The freezer is your friend
Gunders, the author of the NRDC’s report on food waste likes to ‘’think of [her] freezer as short-term storage, not long-term storage’’ (BBC). There is a negative impression on freezing foods, but if you have the time use your weekends to batch-cook and freeze for the week!
Don’t put food waste in the general bin
An increasing amount of food is being used for compost around the UK, so put your leftovers in the food waste bin if your council provides one.
Buy ugly fruit and veg
Up to 40% of fruit and veg doesn’t get sent to be sold at supermarkets due to their appearance (National Geographic). Organisations around the UK still sell these perfectly edible foods from Wonky Veg Boxes based in Leicestershire or London-based Oddbox who also give their surplus food to food banks. If you want to support companies that use imperfect fruit and veg check out Waste Not, Rejuice, ChicP and Rubies in the Rubble.
Reducing food waste saves you money
Cutting down food waste in the home is not only good for the environment, but also for your pocket! WRAP estimate that by cutting food waste each household could save up to £700 per year (2019)
Small changes can make a big difference
When it comes to mitigating climate change, Project Drawdown ranks reducing food waste as the third most impactful action, behind only better management of refrigerants and increased onshore wind power (National Geographic 2019). I know that the task of reducing global food waste is daunting, but taking these simple steps in your local community is a fantastic place to start, as we begin to steer away from our throwaway culture that has developed over the years.
Don’t beat yourself up
It isn’t just the consumers fault! Our current purchasing habits are only a consequence of our systemic environment. Multinational institutions and governments around the world from developing and developed nations need to educate consumers on food literacy, reform date labels, and re-imagine the consumer obsession of overflowing aisles of produce and glamorous packaging. Steps like these will make it harder for us to mindlessly waste, and hopefully encourage us to be more mindful of the food we buy.