Why should we reduce food waste?

The stats about how much food we waste are everywhere, but less talked about is how food waste that ends up on landfill emits methane and contributes to climate change.

Logo No Time to Waste. This article is part of a joint campaign by Riverford and Wicked Leeks to help people cut food waste and raise awareness.

Research by waste and resource charity, Wrap, shows that out of the food we throw away in the UK, 70 per cent could have been eaten – worth £15 billion every year, and costing almost £70 per month for the average family with children. But food waste is about so much more than what is in our wallets – here’s why:

Food has a carbon footprint

Growing food uses vast amounts of precious natural resources. The further along the supply chain waste occurs, the more carbon intensive it is too – harvesting, transportation and processing all accumulate more greenhouse gases. A bottle of tomato sauce wasted by a retail store or left to go off in your fridge will have much higher carbon footprint than a tomato damaged in the farmers field. 

Wasting food essentially means this carbon was emitted for nothing – a huge problem when we are already struggling to deal with the carbon dioxide that we do need. Not to mention the waste of other inputs, energy and labour that goes into food production.

Although charities such as FoodCycle and FareShare can use surplus food rather than let it go to waste, not all supermarkets support redistribution and through over-ordering, or suddenly stopping product lines, allow too much stock to spoil. Simply by changing our shopping habits a little, we can make a huge difference ourselves. Menu planning, only buying what we will actually eat, adopting a more sustainable diet and ‘compleating’ (letting no edible food go to waste), will all reduce the carbon footprint of our shopping basket.

Food waste
Rotting food emits methane and contributes to climate change. Image Flickr/Adam Levine. 

Less food waste helps combat climate change

Friends of the Earth states that worldwide, the food we waste each year is responsible for around seven per cent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If it were a country, it would be the third highest emitter of GHGs in the world.

Banning food waste from our rubbish bins is a must, as when uneaten food ends up in landfill it rots and produces methane. Preventing edible wasting food that could have been eaten, would have the same CO2 impact as taking one in four cars off UK roads, according to recycling campaign Recycle Now.

Home composting any unavoidable food waste like egg shells, banana skins and tea bags will contain these gases and transform them into useful fertiliser – there are various systems that will help you do this easily. If you don’t have a garden, many councils have a local food waste recycling collection service that will turn your waste into compost or convert it to energy in an anaerobic digester and produce electricity, heat or transport fuels.

Food waste is bad news for farmers

Britain is one of the most wasteful countries in the EU when it comes to food, with 15 million tonnes per year feeding no one. Shockingly, preferences about how food ‘should’ look is a huge contributor to this. The Soil Association estimates 20 to 40 per cent of UK fruit and veg is rejected before it reaches shops due to strict cosmetic standards. If we shift our expectations away from ‘perfect’ looking fruit and veg to its flavour and provenance, wastage caused by trimming products for packaging and display could also be ended.

A huge amount of money has already gone into producing food before it ever reaches shelves – from the buying of seed, to paying someone to prepare the ground and plant. Buying only perfect fruit and veg feeds into this cycle and prevents a fair return to farmers, while buying direct, via a box scheme, or choosing a shorter supply chain can help prevent waste before it even leaves the farm gate.


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