/ Food & Drink

Could you reduce your food waste?

Food waste

Around 10 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK. People like me – living in a small flat, without outdoor space for a compost heap, nor green or food waste collection – are part of the problem. So, what do you do with your food waste?

Trips down to the compost heap at the bottom of the garden with a box of fruit and vegetable scraps were part of my childhood. Although nothing usable goes in the bin as far as possible, banana skins, egg shells etc end up in my general waste. In my area, it’s incinerated, without the chance to break down into compost.

In theory, I could collect my food waste scraps and see if I could take them to a local green waste collection centre. In practice, I’m not keen to store enough food waste in my flat to make the trip worthwhile.

Food waste

In England, 48% of local authorities don’t operate food waste collections. But the rest of the UK is much better; all authorities in Northern Ireland and Wales do, along with 91% of local authorities in Scotland.

If your council collects food waste from your home, it’ll go either to a compost centre, or an anaerobic digestion centre. If you don’t separate your food scraps from your general, black bag waste, it’ll either end up being incinerated (usually to create Energy from Waste) or going into landfill.

Over half (7.7 of 15 million tonnes) of the municipal waste that went to landfill in 2015 was biodegradable, the government estimates. It has targets to reduce this, as biodegradable waste decomposes to produce methane (a greenhouse gas).

Future of food waste

Wrap, a not-for-profit sustainability organisation, estimates that food and drink accounts for 20% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. By 2025, it estimates that the average family will waste £700 per year on food unnecessarily. So it has set out a plan for reducing food waste by 2025, and is working with government, industry, and consumers to achieve it.

A recent report on food waste from the House of Commons’ Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee recommended a national food waste target for England, making it compulsory for retailers to publish data on their food waste, and a review of whether ‘best before’ dates on food are necessary.

Tesco already publishes its food waste data. Sainsbury’s is also beginning to do so. But doing so is voluntary and no other retailers have so far taken up the challenge.

Though business food waste is part of the problem, we as consumers can also do a little more. Around a fifth of us already compost, according to our survey (1,067 members of the general public in March 2017).

What do you do with food waste?

It is collected by my local authority (42%, 507 Votes)

I compost it in my own compost bin (34%, 412 Votes)

Nothing - it goes into general waste (23%, 274 Votes)

I take it to a local green waste collection centre (1%, 13 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,206

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If you want to give composting a go, check our expert reviews of the best compost bins. Or step up your compost efforts with a wormery.

And if you use a food or green waste collection, make sure you’re not putting items in which could contaminate it – scraps of plastic are the biggest problem.

Do you make compost from your food waste? What would you do to reduce our food waste?


I put my small amount of food waste in compostable bags provided by the council and these go in the brown bin with the garden waste. Apparently we are to be issued with food waste caddies soon. I’m planning to get a compost bin, to cope with garden waste but food waste can join it.

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Definitely going to look into the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act @user-66219. Thanks for highlighting this. I remember walking past a Tesco near an former place of work early in the morning one day and feeling my heart break when I saw a yellow bin being wheeled out with what looked like perfectly fine croissants, bags of salad and other produce that I can only imagine was heading for either landfill or an incinerator. I would love to see a UK version of the Bill Emerson Act discussed in Parliament one day.

It used to be the case that a lot of commercial food waste was collected by reprocessing companies that converted it to animal feed.

I expect that unwrapped or unpacketed food has to be condemned and removed from human consumption for obvious food hygiene reasons, but surplus food that is still in unbroken packaging can be passed on to charities or other organisations without any concerns over legal liabilities – so long as it is within it is still fit for human consumption. It is almost impossible for shops to avoid surpluses as the demand is now so unpredictable from day to day and stores are frightened of running out of stock.

We seem to have very little surplus or waste food after the birds have had their pick and peck.

We don’t waste food, we only buy what we know we will eat. The waste bits, like skins and peelings go down the sink via a waste disposal unit.

Jim Dolan says:
19 May 2017


A few years ago I thought I was doing the world of good by popping all my flat’s food waste, thankfully mostly cuttings from meal prep, into a caddy to then take out to a a larger bin on the street at regular intervals during the week. Unfortunately, I did not foresee just how often I would need to make the trip. Every so often I would open the caddy to find a maggots, flies, cockroaches and one day even an army of ants marching through the house, across the kitchen floor and up the unit to where the container of yummy decomposing food sat. This wasn’t my finest hour and but when you’re as green conscious as I am and you don’t have a garden as a Londoner, you really need to keep on top of your food recycling. That said, I would jump at the opportunity to do this only, only be much, much more disciplined next time.

I was given a food caddy at my previous home but never used it because I did not want waste food festering for up to two weeks before it was emptied. The waste food was put in the small compostable bags provided by the council and those were put in the brown bin with garden waste. I used the food caddy to store paint brushes.

That’s a useful warning Dean.

We have a small bin for compost bits in the kitchen, the worst that happens is a few whiskers sometimes.

The bin does need to have a really good close-fitting lid with a good seal though. A small piece of newspaper in the bottom makes it easier to clean out as well.

Edinburgh Council collects food waste and I’m lucky there’s a collection bin right outside my door. The council also gives everyone who asks a starter pack, ie a small plastic bin and a medium plastic bin plus a few compostable bags. It took a while, but the collection bins are everywhere now as far as I’m aware.

I tried an indoor wormery a long time ago, before food waste recycling had entered the council’s mind. It was a round plastic bin with a tap at the bottom (to collect the accumulated liquid to use as plant food) and a breathing hole at the top for the worms. The starter pack for this as I recall was some sort of compost to put the worms in, calcified seaweed, and the worms. It didn’t really work in that I think I had too little food waste to give them and they disappeared. I ordered a new batch of worms and tried again, but they disappeared too, so I gave up. The interesting thing is that the compost I made so very slowly never smelled bad, there never was a bad smell coming out of the bin, and the whole thing never attracted pests. It’s maybe worth a shot, Sarah?

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Alcohol? That would get put into me, Duncan.

Thank you very helpful. I will have to overcome my aversion to worms. Think I’ll give it a go. I imagine they are small ones?

I would follow the link provided above by Duncan. There is a lot of useful info in there. If you click on “Composting and Worm Composting” on the top left, and then on the “Composting worms, bedding materials and supplies” you can look at a picture the worms. They aren’t bery big and to me not horrible at all. You hardly see them anyway, certain never a wriggling mass of them, they disappear “underground” the minute you open the bin lid. I think it’s worth a shot if you follow the instructions more carefully than I did (I didn’t know about the onion bit, I’m sure my onion tops and tails did go into my bin).

I sometimes wonder when the first human tried an onion and why he or she didn’t reject it immediately.

I’ve had several wormeries and found them much more fun than a composting bin but they don’t take a lot of food waste at a time. Worms eat less in winter. I am happy that they eat my bank statements as well as banana skins and tea bags etc. I like being able to add fresh compost to the garden and the liquid made by it (watered down) to feed potted plants.

However it is worth learning to reduce your food waste first! If you shop in supermarkets you often can’t buy just one courgette or four carrots you end up with bags of vegetables. The more that you buy means the more that you have to manage. Buying less frees you from this and means that what you use is often fresher. You also learn to be more imaginative with your cooking. http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com is a good website to help you set up a canned and bottled store-cupboard to which you then add your fresh food, and recipes for using up leftovers and the difference between Best Before and Use By dates etc. You can also freeze many more things than you think.

The food waste bin collection is good for the collection of bones (but make stock out of that chicken carcase first – a slow cooker does this easily and means that I no longer have to belt downstairs when I smell the chicken stock starting to boil dry.) We’ve been using a FWB for years now and can use newspaper to wrap our food waste in as well as the compostable bags with the seedling logo so it is quite flexible. Councils who collect food waste separately seem to collect it weekly. To make life easy: Always keep food waste covered, don’t keep your outside food waste bin in the sun, and always rinse your FWB between collections so it doesn’t attract flies.

There is always something new to learn. We’ve eaten a lot of fresh ginger recently and I always used to peel it with a peeler or knife. I got fed up with this and just sliced it to go into a hot drink. Then last week I learnt that it is much easier to peel it with a teaspoon – if you want to peel it. It really is.

I’m impressed, Lessismore. Just one point. Newspaper is supposed to be better for recycling than other paper, so I wonder if it is better to stick to using compostable bags and put the newspaper in the recycling bin.

We have to buy our own compostable bags and that is why we tend to use newspaper except when we have something really smelly or we are very busy eg have our lives disrupted by builders. We like that we have the option though because it reduces the stress should we run out of bags. Some other boroughs allow their residents to line the bottom of their FWBs with shredded paper which helps to soak up any liquid in the bottom. Also when the FWB is lined the contents slide out. We have quite a bit of onion and citrus food waste and we eat little meat. We no longer waste any bread as we freeze half a sliced loaf at a time – that was our biggest problem to manage. Crusts often go on their own in the freezer – to be taken out and toasted later.

For anyone who is thinking of getting a wormery, we have found the layer ones much better than the original wheelie bin one we had over 20 years ago. They are much easier to manage. We got our wormeries from http://www.wigglywigglers.co.uk and they have some good youtube videos. It all became easier once we had the internet as we could watch different films and see different wormeries and ask questions and get advice by email.

You should be able to build your own wormery.

Has anybody used a Green Johanna?

We have a weekly food recycling collection but have never needed to use it.

Apart from rarely wasting food, it either goes on the compost heap or gets fed to the wild life.

by feeding wildlife this can also lead, very quickly to inviting rats and other verminous wildlife, carrion birds pick it up and fly away and drop it thus spreading the food wider with the ensuing invitation to more vermin. This also includes foxes and badgers, invertebrates and stray cats – therefore how is this a viable option? Also this is a route for foot & mouth disease which is well documented at Defra

We produce almost zero food waste since we got a bokashi bin last year. (The exception is any large, hard to break bone, such as lamb shank). Instead it all goes directly to feed the life in our soil.

I think bokashi is wonderful, and wish I’d found out about it long ago. All indoors; no stink or slime in any bin; no fruit flies; a short batch time (a month in summer, two in winter); no waste of food energy or carbon (composting loses over 60%).

Bokashi accepts all food waste including meat, fish, dairy, bread and cooked leftovers. I read that some people use it pre-compost or pre-wormery for this reason, but to me they miss the point of direct soil food.

Despite some crass marketing, it isn’t magic. It is anaerobic fermentation in an airtight bin, by bacteria related to those that make yogurt and sauerkraut. The food is thus preserved in lactic acid, a natural bactericide, and is denatured in ways similar to early steps in our own digestions. The lactic acid breaks down in air, so when well mixed into soil, the preserve is ready to be eaten by all kinds of soil creatures. They do this remarkably quickly: in a couple of weeks the preserve is gone. The end result is a soil richer in life, life’s nutritious poo, and organic carbon.

Bokashi starter kits include two bins, one for filling up while the other is one fermenting. They can be pricey, but, because bokashi diverts costly landfill, starter kits are well subsidised by councils through a national scheme via one supplier (evengreener.com). The only ongoing cost is for bran that inoculates the food in the bin. I estimate just over 50p per month per not very wasteful person. Personally, I think councils should make that free too, given the money they’ll save.

When I look at the advantages, and the costs and troubles of equally serious composting with bins or worms, bokashi seems to me to be a no-brainer, potentially the only Which? Best Buy. I’d be interested to learn what you think.

There’s scope for community action here. Not only bulk-buying of the bran, but also mutual encouragement, and especially teaming up people without a garden who would love zero food waste and community gardens who would love to make richer soil. Why is it not rife, I wonder. The foreign name?

I have friends who have or had bokashi bins. Many gave up when the Council started a food collection system. This goes for anaerobic digestion.

I agree about the community composting. I did once ask whether an allotment user friend would like some extra compost /vegetable waste but the offer wasn’t taken up. I still think that there is a missed opportunity here. It took me several years to fill the first wormery but then you need to have somewhere to use the compost… I did then find another garden for it.

I was astonished at the figures for household food waste presented in the latest Which mag. We don’t have anything like the 750g pp weekly food waste.
We shop for fresh food about twice a week and plan main meals carefully. We only buy what we plan to eat. Our food waste consists of things like cherry pips and other fruit stones, fish bones and skin, melon skin etc. We are mortified if “uneaten” food has to be thrown out – we cannot afford the waste. If we have bought too much fruit we make a fresh fruit salad. We are careful to monitor the “use by” dates on longer term stored food and have started to buy foods in smaller packs such as flour which looses its properties in storage – cakes are very much better made with fresh flour.
We don’t plan breakfasts and lunches so precisely but just keep several options in the cupboard/fridge which are planned to be eaten over the next week or so.
Its not rocket science! How do people create the waste you describe?

It was good to see four pages devoted to food waste in the July magazine, though there is no mention on the front cover. Thinking about what food waste I produce, making fruit salad does produce a fair amount. Dismantling a mango or pineapple produces plenty of waste. I put food waste in a compostable bag in the brown bin with green waste. At one time the council must have collected food waste because I inherited a caddy with the house, but now it provides food bags. I’m not keen to compost most food waste because it can attract rats etc. It’s interesting that Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland do best for recycling food waste.

You are right about fresh flour, Andy. That’s why flour has a fairly short ‘use by’ date.

Judging food waste just by the aggregate weight of our food cadies is not satisfactory as much of the waste in many people’s caddies is not edible food but skins, leaves, peelings, bones, seeds, stems, shells, stones, pips and kernels This also includes bruised, spoiled or damaged parts of fruit and vegetables.