Food-waste is food that is left uneaten, unused or discarded; The World Resources Institute describes it as “the result of negligence or a conscious decision to throw food away”. This wastage can happen at various stages of food production – from picking to consumption. The high waste that we see in the UK can be associated to our throwaway culture; thinking that we can get something better rather than being satisfied with what we have.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 415 million tonnes of food is lost before harvest due to it being damaged before picking, or not fitting our prescribed beauty standards. And in the UK, we keep on throwing perfectly edible food away; the average food wastage is more than 6 million tonnes, of which 4.5 million tonnes could have been eaten.
This is a MASSIVE amount of food – enough to fill 38 million wheelie bins, in ONLY A YEAR. But really, who can blame us for throwing some food items away – we have been conditioned to follow food expiration dates to the letter; to throw away food if it’s one day past ‘its best’ for fear of food poisoning.
This can sometimes be an arbitrary dating, particularly with respect to plant-based foods. Instead of blindly throwing away, it might be worth testing your food item first; looking at it, feeling it, smelling it to try to gage whether it really is past its best.
Every day in UK homes we throw away approximately:
20 million whole slices of bread (equivalent to 1,000,000 loaves at 20 slices per loaf; but more than a third less than in 2007)
4.4 million whole potatoes
920,000 (0.9 million) whole bananas
1.2 million whole tomatoes
720,000 (0.7 million) whole oranges
800,000 (0.8 million) whole apples
2.7 million whole carrots
970,000 (1.0 million) whole onions
86,000 whole lettuce
With sustainability and environmentalism often on the tip of your lips, it seems crazy to ignore the food production system in these efforts.
As food breaks down in landfill, it produces large quantities of methane, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases. Food production itself accounts for more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, but almost a quarter of these emissions are directly from food waste.
This equates to food wastage being responsible for around 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Whilst this might not seem like THAT MUCH, it’s actually nearly three times more than global emissions from aviation, and, in relation to country emissions, would be considered the world’s third largest emitter, only coming under China and the U.S.
Putting a figure to this quantity, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has estimated that global food waste produces 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in a year.
The food waste problem isn’t just impacting the environment through its emissions, food requires intensive amounts of resources; from labour to water, land to energy, to be produced. To put this in context, an area larger than China is used to grow food that is actually never eaten. Large quantities of forests are being chopped down, homes are being destroyed, to produce this food that will inevitably go to waste. 25% of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow this food that ends up in our bins.
And this is not just costing the environment, WRAP has estimated that global food waste has a value of more than £19 billion a year, and this wasteful mentality is costing the average UK household £500 a year. There is also a high economic cost to this waste which is incurred by local government in collecting and treating food waste. In the UK, this cost is estimated to be over £300 million; a financial drain that could be directed to other avenues.
Whilst it seems that food waste is such a mammoth problem, small changes to the way that you see food, and utilise it in your household can MASSIVELY change your food waste output. Think about changing the way that you see a non-aesthetic piece of fruit; yes, it might look ‘ugly’ but it’ll still taste just as good! Instead of letting the food that you need to throw away contribute to landfill, why not ask your local authority to collect your food waste, or you can even start up your own composting initiative!
There are some great initiatives out there fighting the good fight and eco-minded businesses using food destined for the waste bin to create amazing products and change perceptions on the acceptability of odd shaped fruits, surplus crops and waste products
Oddbox - Oddbox are fruit & veg delivery service that is committed to operating in the most socially and environmentally responsible way, and will re-invest a majority of its profits to further the mission to tackle food waste.
Their goal is to tackle 5% of the pre-farm gate fruit and vegetable waste by 2022 (500,000 tonnes)in the UK and the EU (produce lost or wasted before it leaves the farm) with innovative solutions.
Rejuce - Juice made from select wonky fruit & ugly veg from farms all over the UK: the stuff that is deemed by some to be too big or small, unsymmetrical or just plain UgLy.
Rubies in the Rubble - This company is changing the world one condiment at a time. Rubies in the Rubble produce relishes, ketchups and mayos made from sustainably-sourced surplus ingredients.
Up Circle - Each product in their range sources and rescues by-products from other industries – the food and drink industry in particular and turns these into everything from soap to skin cleansers
Toast Ale - Toast Ale have taken one of the top most-wasted ingredients, bread, and turned it into an award-winning beer. And it gets better. They donate 100% of their profits to charity, are a certified B Corp organisation and are on a mission to launch their own rev-ale-ution.
Whatever you try to take on to combat your own footprint, just remember that you can only do what you can. Even baby steps make a huge impact.
Next time you see someone wasting food at home, work or wherever, gently try and demonstrate the effect that could have on the environment. And, if they don't listen to that, grab em by the shoulders and throw them in the bin instead. Jokes.
Words by Alice Harrison