/ Food & Drink

Do you throw away food?

Food waste

Recent research has shown that household food waste has increased for the first time in a decade, meaning the food industry has failed to meet a commitment to cut it by 5% between 2012 and 2015.

I hate wasting food and will try really hard not to do it. I rarely pay attention to best before dates (if it looks and smells OK, I’ll eat it) and will cut away the mouldy bits on cheese, bread crusts and veg if I think the rest is still edible (once a student…)

I’ll even ask for a doggy bag if I can’t manage all my meal at a restaurant (much to the embarrassment of my co-diners).

But there are times when it’s unavoidable.

I usually come unstuck when I’ve got guests. I can’t very well expect them to eat food past its prime (especially if they’re accompanied by children), so will buy in fresh – and I’ll invariably overestimate.

For days after I’ll endeavour to use up the surplus. But even though I’m cutting away the bad bits, I can never seem to get through entire loaves of bread or packs of fruit and veg, and more often than not will have to admit defeat, consigning them to the food bin.

What a waste

After reading this week’s news that an estimated 7.3m tonnes of household food waste was thrown away in 2015 – up from 7m tonnes in 2012 – I’m feeling even more guilty about my excess.

To put it another way: that’s £13bn worth or £470 per average UK household.

And according to waste charity Wrap, which provided the figures, 4.4m tonnes was deemed to be ‘avoidable’ – compared with 4.2m tonnes in 2012.

Wrap, which is part funded by the government, also claimed that this generated 19m tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime. And preventing that pollution would be equivalent to taking one in four cars off UK roads.

Wales wastes less

The latest figures mean that the food industry has failed to meet a commitment to cut household food waste by 5% between 2012 and 2015.

However, some progress has been made on decreasing household food waste since Wrap started taking records ten years ago.

Between 2007 and 2012, total food waste fell by 15%, and avoidable food waste dropped by 21%, thanks to rising food prices, simplified best before date labels and campaigns to raise awareness.

Interestingly, Wales, where most councils provide homes with designated food waste bins, is outperforming the rest of the UK, with Welsh residents producing almost 10% less food waste per year than the average Brit.

Taking action

So what’s being done about this gain to the UK’s food mountain?

Well, for starters, in a scheme being coordinated by Wrap, from this year signs will be erected in major supermarket aisles reminding customers about sensible portion sizes and how to store food correctly.

The charity also hopes that personalised messaging through online shopping, loyalty card schemes or apps could also help customers identify beneficial changes totheir shopping habits.

Community member Jon Hartshorn’s idea that supermarkets should be obliged to stock smaller prepacked vegetables and fruit as he finds it difficult to find pack sizes that suit his requirements was one that particularly resonated with me.

What would you like to see be done to reduce the UK’s household food waste?

Comments
Member

We have very little food waste. I was brought up to eat what I was given or go hungry, my mum wasted nothing and that has rubbed off on me.

Melanie, you might want to make more use of a freezer. Most food will freeze or can be cooked into something that can be frozen and made into something at a later date.

In all the years we have had food recycling, I haven’t used it once. Most of our food is either eaten or frozen.

Of the remainder, uncooked fruit and veg waste goes on the compost heap, and the wildlife appreciate any left over scraps.

I also ask for a doggy bag. Restaurants do tend to think you are actually going to give it to your dog and just chuck it in a container, so I ask for the doggy bag container to do it myself. Sometimes there is enough left for another meal, other times I might just save it for the wildlife.

Member

My freezer is full of surplus dinners @alfa – I just can’t identify what some of the dishes are. 😲 I need to be more organised and actually label containers before I put them in the freezer.

Interestingly, while travelling into work this morning, I was reading about a food-waste supermarket that opened in Leeds in September (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-37418336).

The Real Junk Food Project (http://therealjunkfoodproject.org/), which runs food-waste cafes around the country, is behind the project and it hopes to roll out the supermarket concept in every city in the UK. Thought it was a fantastic idea.

Member

Thanks for the links @mtrain, it is a brilliant way to make use of surplus food.

Labelling what goes in the freezer is a good habit to get into, sounds like you will have a few mystery meals. I have a couple of felt pens I bought from Betterware more than 20 years ago that write on freezer bags that are still invaluable. They might not get used very often, but it is amazing they still work after all this time.

Member

I get emails notifying me of food recalls often because a product contains unspecified ingredients.

I presume this food gets thrown away. What a waste !!!

Instead of clearing shelves and returning products, why on earth don’t supermarkets have a recall area where the products are sold cheaply. The problem can be highlighted and sold as “eaten at your own risk”. A great many people do not have allergies and intolerances to contend with and would really appreciate a few bargains.

Member

Nestle had a recall of instant coffee after they introduced a new style of jars some years ago. Some customers had found broken glass in their coffee. They offered a full refund and reintroduced the old-style jar. I had about a dozen jars of Alta Rica so took a photo and put in a claim. Knowing that glass is quite dense and would settle to the bottom of the cup and be visible, I inspected the rim of the jars and used the coffee rather than waste it.

The Food Standards Agency provides allergy alerts: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/allergy-alerts-news I support what Alfa suggests about passing on food to those without allergies or intolerances. Waste not if you want not

Member

I suspect regulations would prevent that, Alfa. For instance, our neighbours are all farmers and it’s interesting to know that they can’t even feed their own pigs with waste food – even food that’s been cooked by themselves and is simply surplus.

I suspect people are also still unable to work out the difference between ‘Best Before’ dates and the standard ‘Eat by’ date stamps, before which you should either eat or freeze.

We sometimes have roast chicken – the only ‘meat’ we eat besides fish – and any chicken left over is made into curry, with any remaining veg recycled into a soup. Even our 2016 Christmas dinner, which keen-eyed readers will remember was a bit of a disaster, owing to bloody chicken and uncooked beef, was completely recycled into curries. And we did enjoy a veggie Christmas dinner 🙂

Member

I keep a mental note of what is in the fridge and very little gets wasted. If necessary I cook it and put it in the freezer. My main problem is with fruit spoiling, either before it is ripe or not long after purchase. I suspect rough handling in the supply chain may be a factor.

I would like to see an end to multi-buy promotions on fresh food because this is well known to promote wastage. Rather than buy-one-get-one-free, simply halve the price, which will both save waste and help the poor. Responsible supermarkets already do this.

Member
Phil says:
21 January 2017

The fruit/ veg spoiling situation is partly due to the exasperating supermarket practice of ‘bundling’ products together – it may suit families, but it’s terrible for single households. I’ve recently purchased an excellent Nutribullet machine, and consequently my fruit / veg consumption has gone up. But in order to eat fruit/veg in their prime, I freeze nearly all of them first. Blueberries – even spinach – freeze beautifully (washed first). I also freeze portions of melon and kiwi fruit! Even grapes are freezable. I slice and freeze lemon portions , often having zested them first. I freeze the zest for use later. Not sure what to do about bananas though, apart from keeping them away from other fruit and not over-buying in the first place.