Fighting our food waste habit
September 29th was designated International Awareness of Food Waste and Loss Day. A strangely titled day that grabbed my interest because it directly related to one of the United Nations Sustainable Goals: goal 12 – to ensure ‘sustainable consumption and production patterns’. LowImpact last wrote about our food waste habit and sustainability in 2015. Back then we had some pretty stark figures, taken from a TV programme with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at the time:
- £15 worth of food per week is wasted in the average UK household
- Our food waste habit costs us about 15 million tonnes of food annually in the UK, half from homes and half from agriculture and retail
- About half the food thrown away by households is perfectly edible, and almost all of the food refused or thrown away by supermarkets is edible
Why is food waste and sustainability linked?
Well, it comes down to the triple threat of pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change
We know that globally around 34% of our carbon emissions come from food, and much of that transportation. Food production globally uses 80% of water used. (Water Calculator)
These facts mean that we can’t ignore food waste. Curbing food waste and building a sustainable food network is the responsible thing to do. Put simply, our food network is incredibly unsustainable. The UK Government’s food security report 2021 states that:
The biggest medium to long term risk to the UK’s domestic production comes from climate change and other environmental pressures like soil degradation, water quality and biodiversity. Wheat yields dropped by 40% in 2020 due to heavy rainfall and droughts at bad times in the growing season.
And points out that half of the food on our plates in the UK is grown here.
Are we kicking our food waste habit?
Have we improved since 2015? WRAP – the climate action NGO sheds light on the current statistics:
- Around £13.50 worth of food is wasted each week by the average UK family
- 9.5 millions tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK – 70% of that being from homes
- Around 4.5 million tonnes of that waste is edible
These figures point to some success. Let’s explore that.
Food waste and sustainability – what has worked?
- The food and drink industry is making improvements – including efforts to pass on waste that could still be eaten through charitable donations.
- Campaigns from groups such as Wrap and Fareshare have put these issues in terms the public can understand – ensuring actions are manageable. For example, the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign from WRAP, and soundbites which compare our annual food waste to real-term examples such as ‘8 Wembley Stadiums’ worth.
- Allotment popularity and an increase in use has led to national conversations about the impact they can make, and a focus on how to encourage people to get involved.
- Linking it to cost – explaining the savings that the public can make has a big impact.
Carbon cost and the food waste habit
If food waste were a country it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world. And according to Our World In Data it is not always a straight choice of merely ‘eating local’ we need to be aware of the whole food chain. The choice of what we eat is just as vital as where our food comes from.
Food waste and sustainability is being tackled through building the relationship between growing and eating your own food. Local community networks are gaining strength under the term ‘slow food’; farmers markets, local small holdings, celebrating seasonal production – all connecting people with the food that they eat and how it is grown. SlowFood.org.uk aims to build a network dedicated to encouraging people to ‘appreciate what is on the plate’ and replicate the success of slow fashion movements.
And so I turn this over to you – what have you seen work in your communities? Has your household managed to kick the food waste habit? Recently started growing your own food? Let’s hear the positive stories and help others to see what is possible.