Food waste is a global problem that affects people, the environment and the economy, yet is a great opportunity to work collaboratively on all scales to reach a more sustainable future.
Food waste is an issue not just because of food wasted but also the ‘hidden costs’ associated with the overexploited resources used to cultivate it:
- The land used to grow wasted food equals the size of China (see table)
- The water used could provide 9bn people with household water 
- Food waste causes 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions that could contribute to the predicted 2°C rise in global warming by 2050 .
- Food wasted could provide for the 1bn people hungry at present and extra 2bn people predicted in 2050 
UK Food Waste
On a smaller scale, the UK wastes 1.9mt of food and drink a year, 1.1mt of which is avoidable, worth £1.9bn. This the highest level of waste in Europe and is not just a loss for industries but also costs households £470 per year. Both economically and environmentally it makes sense. So how can food waste be reduced?
The largest campaigns in recent years in the UK have been to target UK supermarkets for their waste of ‘expired’ food. Supermarkets for legal reasons have gone as far as pouring bleach on ‘expired’ food or locking bins to prevent access. This creates huge volumes of food waste, Tesco reported it wasted 30,000 tonnes of food waste in the first half of 2013.
We need to lobby policymakers into making these wasteful actions illegal, following France, that instead contractually donate excess to charities. Theoretically this could help solve the food insecurity in Britain in which 8.7million of the population suffer with one million people using food banks.
However as highlighted by French action group Gars’pilleurs, this can ‘create a false and dangerous idea of a magic solution’ by ignoring the wider problems of industry overproduction and unsustainable food wastage systems; whilst putting added strain onto charities who may lack the means to appropriately store and redistribute produce.
Additionally, the Courtauld Commitment, a multi-stakeholder voluntary agreement seeks to reduce food and drink waste and associated greenhouse emissions by one-fifth in 10 years. However, this is voluntary and recent legislation efforts, the comprehensive Food Waste (Reduction Bill) 2015-16 did not get further than the House of Commons, suggesting that there is still a long way to go.
We The People
The biggest influencers in the UK food waste movement therefore must be the people. Tristram Stuart, founder of Feedback, one of the largest food waste campaigning organisations states that consumers have power in numbers:
‘Supermarkets work on the ratio that for every customer who complains, there are a hundred more who think the same. We can all talk to the Customer Services Desk.’
Through Feedback, campaigns against unsustainable practices and stringent regulations on aesthetics have stopped Tesco requiring ‘top and tail’ produce, particularly green beans in which 30% of the crop was lost, have saved 135 tonnes of waste a year. Similarly Asda has relaxed specifications on produce such as sweet potatoes, green beans and chillies adding 300 tonnes to shelves that would have been rejected.
Sparked by the UglyFruitandVeg and #WhattheFork campaigns in the US, many European companies and consumers now also promote ugly produce. French supermarket Intermarche’s ‘Inglorious Fruit and Vegetables’ campaign (pictured below) has stocked an isle of ugly produce in each store and experienced 1.2 tonnes per store sold in the first two days. Danish supermarket WeFood has opened a second store due to popular demand and sells solely expired food at reduced prices. Even Asda in the UK has trialled selling ‘wonky veg boxes’ for just £3.50 and has a Beautiful on the Inside wonky veg range in at least 25 stores.
FareShare, a UK charity has worked with supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda to redistribute unsold food around 995 towns and cities, providing 21.9m meals per year and feeding 499, 190 people a week. On a smaller scale many businesses and cafes have adopted using ‘food waste’ to feed others including The Real Junk Food Project which has a zero waste ‘antisupermarket’ and Pay As You Feel Café’s in the UK, Europe and Australia that receive food from unconventional sources such as allotments, restaurants, conferences and even food photographers. There’s even Toast Ale, a profit-donated beer made from donated surplus bread with a slice of bread used for each bottle of beer!
However, it is easy to shift the blame to supermarkets and wholesales yet they only generated 0.2 million tonnes of food waste in 2015 instead contributing to the 0.7 million tonnes of surplus redistributed charities businesses and animal feed. In fact, households are responsible for nearly 50% of the 7million tonnes of food thrown away in the UK, more than half of which could have been consumed. Although access to services to reduce food has risen, household waste increased by 2.9% in 2014 and overall there were respectively no statistically significant changes between 2012 and 2015.
One of the largest wasted food groups is fresh fruit, vegetables and salads which account for 25% of avoidable food waste and could provide 13 billion ‘5 a day’ portions and help lower income groups who only buy on average 3 per person and reduce obesity of which the UK has the highest rate in western Europe.
It is therefore the responsibility of each of us to reduce our household waste, primarily by cooking correct portion sizes and using food before it is spoiled; two main reasons for household waste. LoveFoodHateWaste promote easy lifestyle changes that could save households £470-£700 a year and have the same impact as taking 1 in 4 cars from the road!
Ultimately though as the Just Eat It campaign states: