Why and how you should change your food waste habits

Rose Jones, with art by Sarah Allen

Food waste is a major global problem which is hiding in plain sight. Over 1/3 of food produced globally ends up in landfill. What’s more, the global economic, environmental, and social cost of food wastage is estimated at US$2.6 trillion, which is nearly equal to the GDP of France.   

The journey of food from farms to your plate is incredibly carbon intensive. When that food is wasted, all the carbon that has been emitted along the supply change is made completely redundant. The same goes for water consumption – 25% of freshwater used to produce food that is ultimately never eaten. This problem is worsened as food waste decomposes in a landfill, releasing methane, a gas 25x more potent than carbon dioxide. To give you some context, if food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (after the US and China)!   

Worse still, 1 in 9 people globally are malnourished or starving. In the UK, 2.5 million people accessed a food bank in 2020. Every single hungry person globally (that’s 800 million people) could be sufficiently fed on less than a quarter of the food wasted by the USA, the UK and Europe each year. We are at a pivotal point globally as, over the next few decades, food will go from being in a great surplus to a great deficit, as we simultaneously try to feed an ever-growing population, challenging the social, economic and political order of the entire world. In the face of this looming crisis, reducing food waste should be at the top of our agendas.  

Food Waste Factsheet 

  • Over 1/3 of food produced globally ends up in landfill  
  • The cost of food wastage globally is estimated at $2.6 trillion 
  • 25% of fresh water is used to produce food that is ultimately wasted 
  • The majority of food waste in the UK happens at home  
  • Everyday in the UK we throw away 25 million slices of bread and 1.4 million bananas 

So, who is to blame? Instinctively, you might think that the majority of the blame ought to be handed to large supermarket brands and other retailers, but food waste at the retail store level is responsible for only around 2% of the problem. The majority of food waste in the UK (and across the developed world) happens at home. So, bad news – your food waste habits are a big part of the problem. The good news is that by adopting new habits you can become a big part of the solution. This is your greatest opportunity to help combat the climate crisis. In fact, according to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste is the number one solution to fighting climate change, placing it above technological innovation such as electric cars or solar power and plant-based diets.   

Let’s take an optimistic view of the food waste issue. We can make real change happen without making any major sacrifices. You don’t have to change your diet. You don’t have to invest in expensive technologies. You can make perhaps the biggest difference of all, by simply eating the food that you buy each week. Not only will you be helping to fight climate change, but you’ll also be saving yourself money. In the UK, food waste is worth £730 per year in the family home, collectively adding up to £15 billion. Now, let’s talk about the best ways to reduce food waste, save money and, most importantly, fight climate change.   

  1. Meal plan. Before you even think about buying food, make a meal plan for the days or week ahead. From this, devise a shopping list and when you go to the supermarket try your best to stick with the plan.   
  2. Freeze it. When it comes to reducing food waste, your freezer is your best friend. In the UK, we throw away 25 million slices of bread every day, alongside 1.4 million bananas – these are two foods that keep well in the freezer.   
  3. Share it. If you have food going to waste in your fridge, share it with your community. One of the best platforms you can use to make this step much easier is the app ‘OLIO’. Not only can you share your own food going to waste, but you can also pick up food that is going to waste from someone else – for free.   
  4. Don’t be scared to adapt recipes. If you have food that you know is going off in the next day or two, don’t be afraid to add them into your meals. You can make amazing soups, pasta sauces, curries and so much more, using the vegetables sat in your fridge. Freestyle it or look up recipes on Google. If you don’t want to eat them that day – freeze them for next week!  
  5. Learn to love wonky veg! Up to 40% of a crop of vegetables can go to waste if they don’t fit the aesthetic requirements of a supermarket https://wonkyvegboxes.co.uk/. By using a platform such as “Oddbox” or “Wonky veg boxes” you can rescue perfectly tasty produce that would otherwise be going to waste.  

Make a personal commitment. Food waste is our responsibility – we can make a real difference if we hold ourselves and each other accountable. The climate issue is an urgent one, so spread the word and start to reduce your food waste today. 

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