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Food waste

Food waste is a major issue in western society, and it has a huge impact on the environment. By definition food waste is the wastage of edible goods; particularly the waste of food fit for human consumption. The most vulnerable categories of food, when it comes to wastage, are perishable items like dairy, meat and fresh vegetables, as these items can spoil quickly.

While reading this blog post you may be thinking that moderate food waste is a normal part of daily life. But what if we told you that statistics gathered by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations highlights that globally as much as one third of all consumable food is wasted per year. That’s approximately 1.3 billion tonnes worth of food!

What are the real impacts of food waste?

Food waste is an extremely large contributor to the climate crisis. Food takes years to degrade in anaerobic sites such as landfill. For example it would take a lettuce 25 years to fully decompose in landfill and the aerobic decomposition of food in these sites leads to large quantities of methane production. To be precise 8% of all excess greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere in 2013 were caused by food waste in 2013, and we can only assume that number is on the increase. 

As well as the global environmental impacts of food waste, there is also a large social issue surrounding this wastage, and that is world hunger. Currently there is enough food globally to feed the entire earths population substantially, however the statistics from 2015 show that 1 in 9 people still do not have the means or the access to food. That’s 793 million undernourished people. Compare this fact to the statistic that if just 1/4 of al food waste was salvaged, it would be able to feed up to 870 million hungry people. This means that if just 1/4 of wasted food was instead given to those in need it would be enough to feed all undernourished people.

Food standards are another impact and reason behind the sheer scale of food waste we see globally each year. Food, especially fresh food like fruits and vegetables are graded based on qualities like size, shape, texture and ripeness. Although it is not a requirement of a retailer to use the grades, it is common practice for supermarkets to only stock the highest grades of these items. This leads to many items of fresh food being discarded because of an imperfect appearance, when they are perfectly edible. These supermarkets also create misleading label information that makes customers buy more frequently and waste more frequently due to the misinterpretation of the difference between ‘best before’, ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’. It is common for people to read the date only, believe the item is passed its best and throw it away and buy new again. These misconceptions lead to a large amount of household food waste, specifically £470 worth of food in the average UK family is binned not eaten. In order to help with the education of our community and the prevention of food waste in the future. Here is a reference list of what each of these labels is truly indicating:

  • Best before - the item bought should not go off before the date listed, however this does not mean that the item isn’t safe to eat after. It is an indication that the item could perish at anytime after this date.
  • Sell by - the date that the item must be removed from retailer shelves. This again does not mean that the item is perished or unsafe to eat.
  • Use by - this phrasing is most commonly used on perishable items like meat and dairy, or any other items that could cause serious health issues if eaten after they have began to perish. The use by date is the only date on a packet that should be adhered to in order to be safe.

 Places that are working to tackle food waste.

Tesco’s New Community Food Connection Initiative using FairShare and FoodCloud-  FairShare and FoodCloud is are a nonprofit organisation in the UK and Ireland that aim to connect businesses that have a large quantity of surplus food with charities/community groups which need the food and help feed people who have little to no access to it. They began a partnership with the supermarket brand Tesco in 2016 in order to combat surplus food waste within the Tesco stores and give back to the community. So far through the project they have distributed more that 100 million meals to over 20,000 charities and community groups across the UK. This has had an impact on the prevention of food poverty in the UK, while also preventing the negative impacts that this surplus food waste would’ve had on the environment if it was simply thrown away.

Winnow - Winnow has been developed in order to aid in the reduction of food waste both in a domestic and commercial environment. Food waste can be weighed, pictured, tracked, analysed and saved for the future in order to create a large document of where and why food is being wasted. From there winnow helps to reduce food waste, cut food costs by between 2% and 8% and help individuals as well as industries reduce their environmental impact. Companies that use Winnow include IKEA and Hilton hotels chain. A collaboration between Winnow and Sainsbury’s in Swadlincote also revealed that if families in a domestic setting reduced their food waste by 68% they could save approximately £260 per year.

To finalise and reflect on the importance of food retention and the impact of food waste, here is the impact of a single apple perfect. This analogy offers an easy way to form a comparison about household food waste as well as a reflection point.

Take a single 150g apple.

If this apple was bruised or spoiled would you throw it away?

What if we told you that it takes 125 litres of clean, safe drinking water to produce that single apple. By throwing the apple away you are throwing away approximately 224 pints worth of water!

Globally half of all fresh fruits and vegetables are wasted per year. To put it into perspective, that would be the equivalent of 3.7 trillion apples worth and more single items of food than people on the planet. 

Next time you throw away any food, think of the apple, consider the scale of impact that that singular item can have, and consider if any of it at all can be salvaged, or composted