British households chuck away a staggering 7 million tonnes of mainly edible food and drink each year – but why? And what can we do to reverse this situation? Maria Evert, Intern at GreenMatch, finds out…
Reportedly, the UK wastes more food than any other European country, and that has put the government and supermarket chains under a lot of pressure to reduce the alarming levels of food waste. Politicians are facing growing calls to initiate legislation to ban supermarkets from discarding the oversupply of food, following similar regulations in France. It is vitally important to take actions, since wasting food is not only morally repulsive, but has also severe economic and environmental consequences.
The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) was created in 2000 with the objectives of preventing the food waste, and encouraging sustainable use of resources in the UK. Wrap’s research shows that there is a problem of excessive food waste in the UK, although the waste problem is also profound in the rest of the developed world. The UK, US and Europe have nearly twice as much food that is needed by the nutritional needs of their populations.
A recent study by the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers pointed out several factors that contribute to creating a food waste, such as defective harvesting, poor logistics, overly strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free marketing campaigns that seduce people to overbuy food, and consumer expectation for perfect looking goods.
Shockingly, nearly half of the food supply goes to waste during the process of getting the food from the farm to your plate. Up to 30% of Britain’s vegetable crop is never even harvested, because its physical appearance does not match established standards. There are also growing difficulties with meat and fish wastage. Each year, 2.3 million tons of fish, which equates to 40% – 60% of all fish caught from the North Sea, are discarded. Either these fish are the wrong size or species, or simply subject to the ill-governed European quota system.
Almost 50% of discarded food comes from households. Britons dispose of 7 million tons of food and drink from their homes every year – the majority of which is still edible. Wasting this food costs the average household £470 annually, soaring to £700 for a family with kids. This is equivalent to British families throwing away six meals per week.
At the present day, the grocery and retail sector has a voluntary agreement with the British government to minimise both food and packaging waste, but ministers do not have much faith in these compulsory targets. Although most of the large British supermarket chains already donate edible goods to local charities, it is only Sainsbury’s that has set a nationwide scheme in place. MPs are currently anticipating a debate where the possibility of introducing legislation to tackle food waste will be discussed. Campaigners also emphasise that the easiest way to limit food waste is by taking action at home – by changing consumption habits, and planning meals beforehand.
Advice to avoid food-waste:
- It is never too late to change your habits. Even small steps in conquering food waste will benefit everyone. Ignoring the food waste problem does not affect only the ones who are malnourished – it is causing other interrelated problems, such as unnecessary pollution and global warming.
- When visiting a supermarket, it is a natural tendency to choose the best looking fruits and vegetables. However, it would be considerate to choose the misshapen ones that are otherwise probably destined for the bin.
- Try to buy just the things you need, serve smaller portions and understand the difference between “best before” and “use by” dates.
- Feeding food leftovers to pigs, instead of directing it to anaerobic digestion, which is currently the preferred UK government’s option, can save approximately 500 times more CO2 Sadly, under European laws, it is forbidden to give food waste to pigs. Meanwhile, regulations in Japan and Korea make it mandatory to feed some food waste to pigs.
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