Why Food Waste Matters

Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Have you ever thrown away uneaten food? Perhaps you have bought food and left it forgotten in the fridge, the next time you take it out it has already gone bad and you chuck it into the bin. Another common scenario you may have come across in a restaurant where you order too much food that you cannot finish and give permission to the waiter to take it away. Not surprisingly that food will end up in the bin as well.

Today is International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. Here at Element 4 we always emphasise the importance of achieving the balance among the three pillars of sustainability: environment, social and economic. Let’s see how food loss and waste affect these three elements.

Environmental impact:

When talking about food waste, the first thing that comes to people’s mind is the methane it produces when the food waste ends up in the landfill. In fact, the food waste in UK can be associated with more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouses gas emissions (GHG)1 per year. However, food waste is not just about the potent GHG emissions, but also the energy that has gone into the production process of the food, including the water and carbon footprint in food production and logistics.

Social impact:

UK is one of the most wasteful countries in Europe when it comes to food with people throwing away over 10 million tonnes2 of food each year. Meanwhile, according to Fare Share, 8.4 million people in the UK are struggling to afford to eat, and this is equivalent to the entire population of London. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has pointed out that a third of the world’s entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste and would provide enough food to feed 3 billion people3.

Economic impact:

Food waste not only has a massive economic impact on itself, but the costs to local government of collecting and treating food waste are also significant. In a report by Friends of the Earth UK, the cost of handling food waste to the UK government is estimated at over £300 million. To the surprise of many people, the majority of food waste in the UK comes from households as opposed to restaurants, hotels and businesses, including supermarkets4.

What can we do to reduce food waste?

Have a look at the following waste hierarchy, which is adapted by WRAP UK from the original EU Waste Framework Directive (2008) with steps for dealing waste and ranked according to their environmental impact.

More practical ideas of reducing food waste can be found on the following links:

1 WRAP (2020). Food surplus and waste in the UK.

2 Which? (2019). Three food waste facts everyone needs to know.

3 FAO UN (2011). Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, study conducted for the International Congress – SAVE FOOD! at Interpack 2011, Germany

4 WRAP (2020). Food surplus and waste in the UK.

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