Food waste facts

The headlines

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, globally we waste ONE THIRD of the food we produce. This equates to 1.3 billion tonnes of food a year.

For our climate, this is vast. If global food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter after China and the USA.

At the same time, 820 million people, or 1 in 9 people around the world are going hungry. Over 20% of children under 5 have stunted growth due to malnutrition.

National food waste

In the UK, the Waste and Recycling Action Plan (WRAP) is in charge of tackling food waste. It estimates we waste 9.5 million tonnes of food a year, which creates 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. Overall, food waste costs amount to £20 billion in the UK. Plus, when food is wasted, all the land, water and energy used to produce the food is wasted too.

Although sectors like hospitality and manufacturing waste food in huge quantities, the majority of post-farm food waste comes from the household.

Post-farm food waste arising in the UK in 2018 by sector (Source: WRAP). HaFS stands for “Hospitality and Food Service” sector

Nevertheless, there is still a huge dataset missing from the UK’s food waste total: farm-level food waste. Feedback estimates that food that is wasted on farms could equate around 25% of the UK’s total, reducing the proportion of household food waste to 50%, not 70% as in the graphic above.

What can I do?

Thankfully food waste is getting more attention than ever before, and now there are lots of opportunities to make a difference.

Read up (with a critical eye)

One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to halving the world’s food waste by 2030. Their platform includes lots of publications, events and news about how food waste is being tackled around the world.

If you read more articles on this blog (such as What is food waste?) it will become clear that food waste is a surprisingly complex issue. For instance, globally we haven’t worked out a standardised way of measuring it, and the UK’s own targets and use of data is flawed.

It is important to maintain an critical eye over what you see and hear about food waste (see Society and Culture tab for my attempts at doing this in books, magazines, art, exhibitions and politics).

(Side note: the Wikipedia page on food waste in the UK also appears to be quite out of date.)

Personal changes

As well as the Tips and tricks section of the blog, here is a selection of websites for tips and habits you can adopt yourself.

  • Friends of the Earth have a page devoted to how to cut food waste at home
  • From saving pumpkins at Halloween to everyday practices, Hubbub offers lots of opportunities to make a change
  • Salvage food that was going to be thrown out by restaurants and cafes at a discount with the Too Good To Go app
  • Exchange your own surplus food with others on the Olio app

However, not everyone has time, energy and resources to adopt new habits that will reduce their personal food waste. The big changes we need will have to come from wholesale system change, not individual behaviour change.

System change is needed

I first became interested in food waste after reading David Evans’ book. He makes the case that it is not just the individual that is responsible for food waste. Our political structures, social practices and material possessions all have a major part to play.

Part of that is the government policies in place that regulate and manage waste in the food system. But it is also much broader than that: it is the supermarkets that put such high pressure on farms to make sure their shelves are filled to the brim 24/7 with food that looks perfect; it is the same companies that encourage consumers to overbuy food. It is the objects in our homes like the fridge that are not designed to best suit our needs. It is the lack of sustainable waste streams like community composting, and the emphasis on redistributing excess food to food banks, which justifies food waste instead of tackling the root causes of food poverty.

Like heating, travel, clothing and other sectors with high emissions, system change is where the most difference can be made for food waste. Individual behaviour change is important, but until we live in a sustainable society, implementing sustainable actions will be really hard. Government campaigns and companies that tell us to live better are asking us to swim against the tide. This blog strongly advocates for wholesale change, so adopting sustainable habits and behaviours is easy and cheap (and even just the default action) for everyone.

How do we get there? More research will help…

Food waste has only been studied since 2006-7. In comparison, academia about recycling and other waste was ignited in the mid-20th century when the environmental movement took off around the globe. In other words, food waste is lagging 30-40 years behind.

At the beginning, studies mainly focused on how much food waste being wasted. Only around 2010 did academics start asking WHY people waste food. Part of that is first understanding the barriers to reducing food waste. Which brings me to…

Contribute to this blog!

Head to Your stories to add your experience with food waste, whether it is a useful tip, a change you’ve made, something you struggle with or other observations.

Published by foodwastestories

Sharing stories to tackle root causes of food waste. Plus food waste tips, long reads, and reviews! Follow on Instagram @foodwaste.stories

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