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.

What we have learned from Plastic Free July?

Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash

“Just because you can’t see it; it doesn’t mean it’s not there”.

Have you ever realised how much waste we produce each day?  Do you know where your waste ends up? Most of the time we do not think much about our daily consumption of products and the associated waste but if we spend some time thinking about it logically, even though our waste disappears from our sight; it still exists somewhere on the planet. 

According to Greyer et al. (2017)1, as of 2015 an estimated 79% of global plastic waste was discarded in landfills or the natural environment, 12% was incinerated and only 9% recycled. Another publication issued by UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)2 in 2015 highlighted that on average 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. These figures are alarming and as a citizen of Planet Earth, is there something we can do?

You might think the developing world is mainly responsible for poor waste practices, but the London average household recycling rate is less than 30%, despite around 80% of what we throw away being recyclable.

As we approach the end of Plastic Free July, I would like to share this shocking video of plastic waste discarded in the Mediterranean Sea: –

Here are a few ideas we can all try to help minimise plastic waste: –

  • Identify the types and quantity of plastic you use. Is there more you can recycle? Consider buying products or food in bulk to minimise excessive plastic packing.
  • Replace disposable products with reusable ones. For example, using reusable bags when shopping decreases single-use plastic bags but you could also try using reusable drinking straws, cutlery and coffee cups.
  • Switch to brands that use planet-friendly packaging and materials. More and more brands are switching to packaging made from recycled and / or biodegradable materials. Try to develop a habit of looking at the packaging / content label and choose wisely to help with reducing plastic waste.
  • Contact your favourite brands by social media or email asking them to reduce their packaging or change to more sustainable practices. You never know, you could be the tenth person to ask the same question that week and that’s how we start to show businesses there’s profit in being green.

Plastic waste reduction requires a shift in both industry and individual practices. We need to make employees and communities aware of the need to adopt the 5 Rs suggested by Bea Johnson (2013)3: –

  • Refuse
  • Reduce
  • Reuse / Repair
  • Recycle
  • Rot (applicable for compostable plastics only)

We can voice the need to reduce plastic waste to politicians and government who have the power to enact policies to reduce the production and consumption of plastic. For example, imposing bans on plastic products including single-use cups and cutlery and levying a green tax on certain single-use plastics. For any policies put in place, government and organisations should continuously monitor and evaluate the performance and communicate them openly to help curb plastic pollution in the environment.

1 Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782.

2 Jambeck, J.R. et al. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), pp. 768-771. 

3 Johnson’s, Bea (2013). Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste

People from different parts of the world dialling in for the Sustainability Kick-Start Workshop

Our Agents of Change Programme has come to an end! Over the last 4 weeks we have been sharing questions around sustainability such as: –

•        Why become an Agent of Change?

•        Who is ready to build a community?

•        What will you do?

•        How we can all make changes?

We interviewed other Agents of Change and hope their personal stories inspire more people to make a positive change in their organisation or community.

We were pleased to see so many people join us for our Sustainability Kick-Start workshop including delegates from Canada, India, Iraq, Mexico, South Africa and across Europe.  We want to thank everyone for sharing ideas and questions that sparked off some great debate.  Due to the constraints of time we could not answer every question on the webinar but everyone is welcome to join our #AgentsOfChange LinkedIn group to continue the conversation.

Here at Element 4 we want to get people inspired and motivated to make real change within the environment and encourage greater sustainability. Let us know what topics interest you helping us to plan future webinars!

The Launch of Agents of Change Programme

In celebration of #WorldEnvironmentDay, we’re launching our free 4-week Agents of Change programme.

If you have a desire to make your industry, company or community more environmentally-friendly, but don’t know where to start, then join us as we share real stories, inspiration and support to help you step up and make your voice heard. You don’t have to be a #sustainability expert to make a real difference.

The theme of this year’s Environment Day is ‘Time #ForNature’. During lockdown, many of us have realised the value and healing powers of nature. Now it’s time to #buildbackbetter, what could you do to make your business a force for good? Let’s go on this journey together. Every week we’ll focus on a topic with videos, inspiring articles and worksheets.

The programme will end on Thursday 2nd July with a free Sustainability Kick-Start online workshop. Visit our Agents of Change page for more information and go to https://event.webinarjam.com/register/2/lpvg1um to register for the free workshop.