The amount of food the UK produces, compared to how much ends up in the bin, is pretty staggering. For every one of the UK’s 68 million populace, around 14% of an individual’s total consumption is wasted. As WRAP reveals, while “households make up 70% of total food waste”, businesses play their part too, with manufacturing contributing “16%, hospitality and food service 12% and retail 3%”.
This is what has brought about a range of new initiatives to help both homes and businesses cut down on food waste, one of which is sustainable waste management As Bywaters explains, processing food sustainably not only eliminates excessive energy usage, but breaks it down to “create high-grade fertiliser to help grow new crops”.
Here we look in more detail how much food the UK actually wastes, and some of the other ways that this can be reduced.
How much food waste does the UK produce?
The most recent stats tell us that over 9.5 million tonnes of food waste in the UK is generated annually. While some is unavoidable, much isn’t, and this goes beyond being an efficiency problem — it’s also an environmental one. According to WWF :“about 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food”.
We can also contrast this statistic with the sad reality that 8.4 million people in the country are in relative and/or absolute poverty. What a great difference it would make if we could better distribute this food to those in need.
What causes so much food waste?
One major cause of food waste in the UK is a lack of information and resources. For example, poor education on waste and recycling processes has led to a vast amount of unavoidable scraps, including banana skins, eggshells, stones, and pips. Instead, by providing caddies to every household in the UK, councils could raise awareness and encourage proper food waste management.
Some chalk this up not to ignorance, however, but people being misled. The journalist and chef Tamar Adler told Vox that “[it’s] in the general interest of anybody trying to sell anything to continue to perpetuate the illusion that our foods are going bad all the time”, pithily adding that, in general, “[we] could buy half as much food”.
Inefficient supply and demand
When supermarkets, restaurants and other businesses in the food service sector overorder, this ends up as waste. At the production level, following regulations can mean that some crops are discarded because they do not look appealing, despite being perfectly safe to eat. For example, around 5.8 million potatoes either do not meet the necessary rules or for other reasons are thrown away during quality control.
What can be done about excessive food waste?
While stocking more dried and canned foods than you need is fine as these prove to be lifesavers when you’re tired, unwell or just too busy, for perishable foods, try to purchase them only for specific purposes. This may mean going to the shop more often, but if it is within walking distance, the extra amount of time and effort required will save you money and help save the planet in the long run.
Take time on a Sunday to cook a big, healthy meal that will last a couple of days, for instance, veggie lasagne, slow-cooked chilli or ratatouille — perhaps a potato salad for lunch to take to work. This is especially helpful if you can’t go shopping that frequently, as you can just go big at the grocery or supermarket, and freeze what you can’t immediately use. Be sure to stay on top of expiry dates too: don’t even think of opening a new pack of blueberries if there’s already one open.
Choose sustainable delivery merchants
If it’s easier for you to buy in bulk, other options are available. ‘Odd veg’ providers, such as Oddbox, sell funny looking vegetables that are perfectly safe (and tasty) to eat, helping to cut out unnecessary waste from the production line. The giveaway app OLIO also lets you spread the word when you’ve got stuff you don’t want, letting nearby folks know where they can get free food.
Commercial food waste management
While recycling networks can be used by households and businesses, on a commercial scale, many local councils do not yet fully accommodate organic food recycling. Through collaboration with services that provide anaerobic digestion for large-scale waste, firms can sustainably process discarded food.
The rise of zero-waste restaurants show how you can make efficiency and sustainability a fundamental part of your brand identity and offering. London’s Silo only sources organic food, and composts what little they don’t use. Big chains like Pizza Express have also tried to get rid of the stigma around doggy bags, encouraging patrons to take their scraps back home with them.
Many businesses in the hospitality industry and beyond have found creative ways to reuse food. Rubies in the Rubble are an example of how to build an entire brand of condiments out of reused grub. Off-cuts and discarded — but perfectly safe — parts like edible stems, leaves and tops, go into their range of delicious products, and you can apply this same approach to your home-cooking.
The chef Clayton Rollinson lives by this strategy, often upcycling greens from a cornucopia of vegetables, even sweet potatoes, to “use them in stocks, for chimichurris, or char them and use them in a salad”.
This is not an exhaustive list of how to cut food waste, but should point you in the right direction whether as an individual, family, employee or business as a whole.
As the saying goes, waste not, want not — but maybe today, in our bustling world, we should be focusing on another piece of advice: “great haste makes great waste”. When it comes to making adjustments, be patient — the key is to form good habits and encourage them in others.