/ Food & Drink

Do you throw away six meals each week?

Half eaten plate of food

The cost of food is one of our biggest worries and yet despite tightening our household budgets, the food waste prevention organisation WRAP say we’re wasting up to six meals per week. Emma Marsh tells us more…

Are we really throwing away the equivalent of 86 million chickens a year in the UK – just from our homes? Unfortunately yes, and the list goes on…24 million slices of bread every single day, one in five potatoes, enough good food and drink a year to fill 88 million wheelie bins …

New research published last week by WRAP has shown that we’re making fantastic progress in the UK – the amount of good food and drink we throw away from our homes has gone down by a massive 21% – but that’s still leaving 4.2 million tonnes left going to waste. And we’re not talking about the bones, peelings or teabags either – that takes it up to a whopping seven million tonnes a year. This is almost half of all food thrown away in the UK.

Turning a blind eye to food waste

Given recent research from Which? revealed that eight in 10 of us are worried about rising food prices why are we still wasting the food we buy? Well, there are many complex and interrelated reasons for this, and it’s important to acknowledge that no one sets out to consciously waste food – I’ve certainly never met anyone who buys food and then happily throws it in the bin.

One of the main problems is that many of us still don’t recognise that we’re wasting food, and even if we do we don’t realise the full cost of it. When asked how much they think the average family throws away each month people will get quite close to the reality – up to £60 for a family – but when asked to relate that back to themselves the value shrinks dramatically!

Planning, storage and portion control

Therefore the first step to tackling this issue is to work out for ourselves just how much we end up throwing in the bin each week. I kept a food diary when I first started working on food waste back in 2007 and was shocked at just how much was going to waste! I then added up how much it had cost me to buy that food originally and that was enough reason to start changing my behaviour, let alone the environmental issues associated with throwing food away.

Once we know what we’re wasting we can start taking simple steps to tackle it, including planning (making a list and sticking to it so we only buy what we need), storage (keeping our food in the best way possible to keep it fresher for longer), portions (cooking just the right amount), understanding date labels (the use-by is the only one that really matters as that’s about safety – never eat past the use-by but you can freeze right up to it) and being creative with leftovers and forgotten foods (such as that wrinkly tomato or floppy carrot at the back of the fridge!). To help, we’ve shared our 5 top tips to help you save money on your food.

Can you relate to accidental throw-away habits? Have you ever considered keeping a food diary to see if you could be cutting back? We’re keen to hear your thoughts and tips on reducing waste.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Emma Marsh, head of Love Food Hate Waste . All opinions expressed here are Emma’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.


I had the same worry 3 months ago and started http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54160

Multi buys are a supermarket scheme to sell more of a product, rather than give the consumer a bargain.

Banning them could have an instant impact on food waste, by enabling people to buy what they need.

I now only throw away the equivalent of only one meal a MONTH! I live alone. I am now in a position to be able to buy the correct quantities for a single householder. I freeze food including bread and the extra cooked portions such as bolognese sauces, stews and casseroles which I love making. The refrigerator is at the correct temperature and is used properly to store food right up to the use by date. I used to throw a lot more away. The most important fact in my turnaround is the opening of my local Tesco Express store, three years ago, which is only a two minute walk away … I seem to be using that shop as my “24 hour” larder! Before the opening of that shop, I used to shop at out of town supermarkets and bought far more than I needed and consequently wasted a fair amount. Thank you Tesco for opening an Express store right on my doorstep! .. I love you! You have saved me a lot of money including the cost of petrol etc….. and I am earning club card points which I convert to Airmiles (already paid for a trip to Venice).

Agree Woodgreener
Having moved into a small town, we now buy our food on an almost daily basis.
Reduces wastage and often allow us to buy more reduced “almost out of date” items.
It is a big culture change in the way we shop from the previous weekly supermarket run .

We could stop subsidising meals our fat cat MP`s, Lords and Ladies!!

My wife and I do one main (supermarket) shop a week plus two very much smaller shops for meat and veg at our local farm shop.
We throw away NO edible food stuffs!
Bread and bread rolls we keep in the freezer, and get out only what is needed for that day.
Any unused salad stuffs or left over vegetables (cooked or raw) go into the freezer until enough has been collected to make into soups.
Non-edible food waste goes on the compost heap.
Chicken carcasses are broken down and placed in bags in the freezer until enough have been collected to make it worthwhile making a batch of chicken stock/soup.
In total our ‘black bin’ waste, that goes for land fill, collected every two weeks, is less than the equivalent of one bin per month – and the vast majority of that is packaging waste that our local scheme rejects (although it was collectable before they introduced these flipping bins!!).

Most of you already know I do not waste food. Ever. But the food side of my life changed 4 weeks ago and now I only eat 100% raw fruit & veg as I am doing a test.

Every Tuesday I get a £11 fruit box delivered to my home from Riverford Organic. This food is kept in the box and I eat 1 item of fruit every 2 hours.

This lasts me to the weekend and then I will go to my local Leeds Market and spend £5 on a mix of fruit and veg (none-organic,cheap ones) and this lasts till the Tuesday.

I have stopped using supermarkets and I have stopped using my fridge / freezer and it’s turned off now saving my elec bill (it was using 2 units per day, shocking).

My weekly food bill has gone upto £16 a week. But the savings I am making by not using the fridge/freezer/hob etc is worth it & as I use every item of fruit / veg up there is 0 waste still 🙂

Two things that contribute to our food wastage:
1. Doing a weekly shop – we find some food is not used when expected because, for example, we go out or we don’t end up cooking the sort of meal we’d intended.
2. Food can get overlooked in the fridge because of the way it is packed in. I’d like to see fridges with shallower shelves (front to back) and deeper storage (again front to back) in the door to make what we’ve bought more visible and better organised.
That said, it is usually fresh vegetables and fruit that are wasted – fruit bought on impulse and vegetables that we forget we already have.
Oh, there is a third factor – going shopping together (as we always do) and me adding to the trolley.

I’m able to shop most days but we have no fruit and veg grocers on our High Street so I have to buy them from my local supermarket. There are two of us but a lot of produce is sold as multi-packs so I am unable to buy the quantity I require and they are items I would like but not suitable to freeze so more often than not the rest go off and have to be thrown away. Also some fruit and veg bought at the supermarket are definitely not very fresh as the next morning they have started to shrivel up. Some blame should be put on supermarkets as well, not just families.

Agree about pre-packed fruit and vegetable, almost all my shopping is done at a Booth’s supermarket which has almost all its fruit & veg available loose. On the rare occasions I venture into Sainsburys in the next town I am amazed by how everything is pre-packed.

Ian M says:
15 November 2013

This ‘research’ sounds pretty poor to me, six days meals thrown each week! No way, has everyone lost their ability to see tosh when they see it. We throw some leftovers away say once a fortnight so some people would have to be throwing more than one meal a day away – I simply do not believe it.

I can believe it. Don’t just think about leftovers. Think about the last quarter of salad bag that doesn’t get used, the unfinished portion of rice because you were full, the shrivelled fruit which never got eaten, the sauce or gravy left in the bowl, etc. Add to that many people’s ignorance about use by/sell by dates and I can well believe, from households I’ve eaten in, that this quantity of food is wasted.
And we haven’t even touched on the vast quantities supermarkets throw away or produce which doesn’t even make it to the supermarket due to non-conformity to size or colour standards.
From previous reports the official figures are a third to a half of all food produced is never eaten. personally I think it’s much higher – closer to 60-70% including farm rejects.

Oh, I forgot to mention restaurants; probably the biggest offenders. Have you ever sat in a restaurant of any kind and NOT seen plates full of food being taken away, sometimes looking almost as full as when they arrived? I rarely see cleaned plates (I clean mine of every last scrap!). Just try it now; peer through any restaurant window and look at all the semi-full plates being taken away to the kitchens. It disgusts me, to be honest. I think it’s a generational thing alongside a misplaced form of politeness where it’s seen by some, as rude to clean plates of every morsel.

Then think about the restaurant kitchen… ever watched masterchef and how much imperfectly cooked food ends up in the bin? Granted there wont be so much waste in a professional kitchen, but there’s still a fair amount I would guess.

Walter says:
16 November 2013

My wife & I very rarely have to throw anything away except peelings, banana skins, apple cores & the like. For that purpose our council gave residents a box with a handle which can lock the lid. It is collected weekly for composting.
Also we don’t necessarly comply exactly ‘use by’ labels as mostly these are dated with a marginal allowance. It would be checked first & invariably the food is OK unless it has gone mouldy.
I have heard some people will throw something away if the label ‘sell by’ date has passed!

Gerard Phelan says:
18 November 2013

The wastage statistics are curious because since I throw away almost no food, then someone else must be throwing all of theirs away! My only ‘regular’ wastage is half a tub of Elmlea cream, when I haven’t organised a dessert to use it up before the mould gets going. Although Which? rubbished “keep fresh longer” bags, they keep my carrots alive, whereas previously they went wet and mouldy if stored in the fridge or shrivelled outside of it.

Chris See says:
26 November 2013

I cannot understand where these figures come from for food wastage. I have spoken to many people who in turn have spoken to many people (unscientific I know) and none of them throw away any were near that quantity of food. There seems to be many ‘culprits’ to blame but realistically if food is thrown out its the individuals fault. BOGOF deals don’t mean you must buy two, using local farm shops, freezing leftovers and my favourite, weekly menu, vastly reduces, if not eliminates, any wastage.
One thing that could be improved though, providing a facility to make buying a small quantity as cheap as a large quantity. I understand it’s helpful for a large family to keep food costs down by buying in bulk, so too speak, but why can’t a single person, pensioner or couple not avail of the same discount without buying excess food.

Watched James Martin trying to get to grips with hospital catering. Allegedly a hospital in Birmingham threw away 40% of its food. Perhaps a focus on such public institutions might be worthwhile?. It is still our money they are binning.

I don’t waste any food (except the skins off the banana and oranges and some of the stalk from the broccolli – these go into the compost). I eat a lot of salad and veg and only shop once a week but I find that I do not have anything that goes off – although I will occasionally run out of a particular item of salad. Fortunately some of the veg can be bought in single person/1 week size quantities from the supermarket. I would be horrified if I was discarding food and would have to alter my shopping routine if this happened.