Food Waste

How reducing food waste can help the environment


It has been estimated that more than 800 million people in the world are suffering from hunger, while some of the world is wasting food that does not get consumed.

Food waste has social, moral, economic, and environmental implications; by avoiding it, we show respect for our planet, society, people who produce the food, and our money.

Statistics show that the world has produced 17% more food than it did 30 years ago.  Food waste is one of the highest greenhouse gas causes.

All the food production phases such as machinery, livestock, soils, transportation, preparation, packaging and disposal involve greenhouse gas emissions.

In the past, it has been found that any food that is produced and not eaten takes up a volume of water that is equivalent to the annual flow of Volga river, which is the largest in Europe.

What is the cause of food waste?

There are a plethora of reasons that food ends up wasted, and often, it can be prevented.

Here are the main food waste and spoilage reasons:

  • Often, food can be inefficiently distributed in the food supply process.
  • Products can be thrown away at the production stage.
  • Food can be thrown away due to cosmetic reasons or by being damaged in transit.
  • When food reaches a sell-by-date, it can be thrown away by retailers.
  • Food supply can exceed the demand, which results in it being wasted.
  • Consumers buy more food than they consume, which means some leftovers get thrown away.
  • Edible food that has passed its recommended expiry date gets thrown away, even if it is suitable to eat.

Whenever any food is wasted, it contributes to pollution and global warming.

Growing, producing, transporting, and selling food involves the usage of the land, machines, transport, and human power, which leaves a footprint on the environment.

Rotting food produces methane, which is more damaging to global warming than carbon dioxide.

Below are three ways that food waste can be reduced.

  1. Reduce the surplus food produced to match the market demand.
  2. Donate any excess food to food banks.
  3. Recycle or compost leftover food to avoid more waste going to landfill.
Business food waste such as Mcdonald's wrappers.

What are businesses doing to reduce food waste?

It is estimated that £20 billion of food is wasted every year in the UK, that is approximately 10.2 million tonnes of waste.

Earlier this year the UK government, alongside more than 100 major food retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Ocado, Co-op, and Waitrose, pledged to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.

British hotels produce 289,700 tonnes of waste yearly and 79,000 is food! The International Tourism Partnership has created a know-how guide for hoteliers to help them manage food more efficiently.

The UK waste charity WRAP also offers food waste tracking sheets, which can be used to track food spoilage and waste to make people more aware.

Reports show that vegetables and fruits still get wasted by farms and supermarkets because of their lack of visual appeal.

Approximately 25% of apples, 20% of onions, and 13% of potatoes get labelled as “ugly” or “wonky” and therefore not suitable for retail.

However, some supermarkets have created product names such as ‘perfectly imperfect apples’ or ‘wonky carrots’ in an attempt to reduce food waste from produce that is still suitable to eat.

The solution also lies in innovation, such as apps that display restaurants and hotels leftover food to consumers and food banks.

This is an excellent opportunity for businesses to make a profit while tackling the ongoing food waste issue.

An example is TooGoodToGo, which offers leftover restaurant and café food for discounted prices on its app.

A leftover food café in Newcastle is moving from a pop-up model to a permanent café thanks to successful crowdfunding.

The Magic Hat Café operates a pay-as-you-feel model and sells fresh produce, as well as creates meals from supermarket throw away food. The café has already stopped more than 10,500kg of food from being wasted.

Are we wasting food at home?

Food waste is made at all stages of the food supply chain, including in warehouses, shops, and consumer fridges.

Reducing food waste saves money on a household and business level, as well as preserves the environment.

Despite the amount of food wasted by farmers and supermarkets, households are guilty of creating the most waste, accounting for 70% of post-farm gate food waste in the UK.

More than a third of the carbon footprint is created at the consumption stage, as the product has gone through further down the supply chain.

The campaign Love Food, Hate Waste advises that an average family of four can save up to £70 a month by adjusting their grocery buying habits to their actual food demand, by adequately storing produce, and by eating everything that is bought.

Every year in the UK, 1.3 billion meals get wasted, and only 12% of the food waste is recycled.

Research by WRAP found out that a big chunk of food waste is carbohydrates such as potato, bread, and pasta which is responsible for 40% of the total food waste.

The most significant food wastage and carbon emission contributors are cereals and vegetables, followed by starchy roots, fruits, milk, and eggs, all commonly found in British households.

Leftover pizza on a plate.

How can I help?

Now you understand the negative effects of food waste and that it can be prevented, here are some small steps you can take that count towards more sustainable food consumption.

  • Plan your meals, create shopping lists and don’t buy excess food.
  • Store your food correctly, freeze any leftovers you have for later consumption.
  • Treat expiry dates as suggestions, not as legal obligations!
  • Compost and recycle your food waste.
  • Donate unsellable, edible food to the homeless or food banks.
  • Choose local produce; it has a shorter supply chain and reduces your carbon footprint.
  • In restaurants ask for a doggy bag for the leftovers, you can have it for lunch the next day.

France has taken a positive step in reducing food waste by banning supermarkets from throwing away food and forcing them to donate food to charities.

If you’re a business owner or see that your workplace could reduce its food waste, use the food waste management sheets, put in place a waste reduction strategy, and collaborate with a charity to make the most of your food resources.


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