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Food waste   |   Climate change

Food waste drops during lockdown

Checking cupboards and fridges more often and making shopping lists has led to the amount of food waste in the home falling by a third during lockdown, a new survey has found.

The survey of 5,000 UK adults was done by Wrap, the UK’s leading waste charity, and found people are wasting around a third less potatoes, bread, chicken and milk – the four most commonly wasted foods – compared to pre coronavirus levels.

The figures come despite the fact people are buying more of those items, Wrap said, showing that households are becoming more resourceful in managing food and menus. Shopping habits have shifted towards shopping less often but buying more items, alongside home behavioural changes such as better planning.

On average, individuals identified six new behaviours that are contributing to lower waste. Almost half of those surveyed said they are checking their cupboards and fridge more before they shop, and one in three are taking more time to check where food should be stored.

Other new actions included freezing more food, saving leftovers, batch cooking and making a shopping list.

Food waste
Food waste emits greenhouse gases once it reaches landfill. Image Wrap. 

The charity hopes that the ‘new normal’ around behaviours leading to reduced food waste will continue after the pandemic, with huge potential savings in greenhouse gases and food bills. Wasted food is estimated to cost the average family around £700 a year, according to Wrap, and it emits millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases if it reaches landfill. 

“In this sustained period of uncertainty, UK citizens have shown how resilient they can be when it comes to managing their food," said Wrap chief executive, Marcus Glover. "These actions should mean less food goes to waste, helping take the pressure off the supply chain and reducing the number of trips we need to make to the shops – or deliveries to our homes.”

Despite the positive drop in wasting food, the survey also identified several knowledge gaps around how best to store some fresh produce and reduce waste further. Almost half of those asked believe that apples last for longest if they are stored at room temperature out of the original packaging, but in fact they can last much longer in the fridge in the original packaging.

Almost 40 per cent of people believe food such as chicken breasts must be frozen on the day of purchase, when in fact these can be frozen up to the ‘use by’ date, giving people more flexibility.

“It’s so encouraging to see this uptake in good food behaviours, especially during challenging times,” said Helen White, special advisor for household food waste at the campaign, Love Food Hate Waste. “We’ve got really helpful resources on the Love Food Hate Waste website, from recipe suggestions to our storage guide and fridge thermometer checker.”



9 Months 3 Weeks

So good to see this; I didn't expect that to be an outcome of lockdown at all! I calculated recently that if one person wastes no food for one month, that cuts their emissions by the same amount of CO2 that a tree absorbs over 2.7 years (the calculations and sources are here: I'm now imagining how many "tree years" we've collectively saved by making this huge waste reduction, and how many we will save now that people have learned how to reduce. Thank you Nina for writing about this

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9 Months 3 Weeks

What a great calculation Freya - really shows that each individual reducing food waste makes such a huge difference. Thanks for sharing!

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9 Months 2 Weeks

That's a really useful calculation, thanks - will be sharing it!

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9 Months 3 Weeks

I am relieved to read Nina's account, and surprised. The third week into lockdown in my street in South London, my partner was told by a council refuse man, whilst removing waste from food waste containers, that he was shocked at the amount of food waste that occurred that week - he mentioned bunches of bananas, packets of unopened chicken and other unwrapped fridge items that had passed their sell-by dates and that reflected bulk buying. Hopefully, now, my street has markedly reduced its food waste in the manner you suggest.

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9 Months 3 Weeks

It sounds like some may have 'panic bought' initially, leading to an upturn in food waste at first, but we have seen that people have learnt to manage food resources in different ways over the weeks and there is much less food waste as a result.

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9 Months 2 Weeks

A lot of food labels say "if freezing, freeze on day of purchase" so it's not surprising that many people aren't aware that this is incorrect advice (which incidentally benefits the manufacturer if it results in people wasting more and therefore buying more). It would be good to get food labelling made more accurate.

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8 Months 2 Weeks

If you can't get it you can't waste it can you. Well from experience I've found the opposite actually happens - if you can't get it you chose an alternative if possible. You then find out you just don't like the alternative - more waste. Using the "Veg Box" system you know get given (OK buy) what the farmer says he has - you are told what to cook and eat! the fact that a lot of that stuff you either don't like or have never tried and when you do find you can't eat it - so here we go again - more waste. Remembering there are lies, damn lies and statistics to me the statistis seem to lie! Is this possible? My waste disposal has increaed by at least 30% if not more since lockdown began! This cannot last, a pensioner gets precious little to live on anyway so wasting it doesn't help.

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