Eco Comment – Food Waste Part 2: The (Shocking) Facts

23 February 2024

According to ‘Business Waste’  (business Home-Food Waste 2024 – the facts)  – ‘a leading waste management company helping businesses in the UK save money on their waste collection and disposal services’:

·       The UK produces the highest amount of food waste in Europe.

·       Over 1/3 of all food produced globally goes to waste.

·       The UK throws away around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste in a single year – even though 8.4 million people in the UK are in food poverty.

·       Billions of pounds are wasted each year when food is disposed of unnecessarily.


What is food waste?

This is any food products that are thrown away as opposed to being consumed.

·       By-product food waste = by-products created through manufacturing and production or agricultural. This could also include peels and trimmings from fruit and veg.

·       Expired products = sell by date products from shops and supermarkets.

·       Leftovers = this could be leftovers from household or restaurants and food preparation.

·       Bakery and packaged food waste = unsold food which could spoil quickly or packaging waste.

Examples of food waste

A recent study from River Cottage found the most commonly wasted items are:

·       Bread

·       Milk

·       Potatoes

·       Cheese

·       Apples

The main causes of food waste are:

·       Shops, supermarkets, or restaurants ordering too many products that will not sell.

·       Poor education regarding of how we should dispose of food waste.

·       Lack of awareness of expiry dates, meaning that food is left to spoil instead of being used.


Why is food waste a problem?

This is partly due to the sheer volume of waste produced each year. The vast majority of food waste ends up in landfill sites – which are already overcrowded. I heard a rumour that we in the UK send an awful lot of waste in general (and food waste in particular) abroad! So, someone else has to sort out our problems! Many people don’t view food waste in landfill as a problem as food items degrade naturally over time BUT it contributes heavily to global warming and the erosion of the ozone layer.

This is because food waste releases a great deal of methane gas as it breaks down. According to a report by the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), methane is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide because it can trap heat within the atmosphere.

Furthermore, food waste is problematic from both a moral and economic standpoint. To put it simply, we throw away millions of pounds worth of food each year – even though many people across the globe go without fresh produce and groceries.

This fascinating and disturbing article goes on to list ways of reducing food waste in the workplace, in restaurants, at home, at supermarkets, on farms, in schools, and in the fishing industry. Some of the ideas apply to us all, are sensible and easily done. Some are beyond our control and relate to industry and are down to government policies and economics. It’s worth reading the whole thing as I’ve only copied and reworded a small portion of it, but if we all did the following in all walks of life we could lessen the waste that is occurring.

1.      Only buy what you need – plan your meals. Portion plan as well. Think about what you already have in your pantry/store cupboard/fridge/freezer. When did you last tidy these spaces? Guilty as charged. My daughter still jokes about finding a tin that was older than her when I last did this. Time for a spring clean?

2.      Reminding ourselves that sell by dates and use by dates are different and that although they are supposedly there to help us they are a marketing ploy by manufacturers and retailers to make us buy more. I think most of us do this anyway but on opening a food item use your eyes. Does it look OK? If it does, smell it. If it smells OK, taste it, if it tastes OK, use it. If it’s gone off, throw it away, unless it could be added to a compost bin. Sadly in Wakefield food waste as such is not collected, but you possibly know a gardener or allotment holder who has a compost bin. If so, make the connection and make an arrangement with them. They will tell you what is and isn’t good for composting.

3.      Cook in bulk and freeze. This is a great suggestion and saves money on fuel used in cooking, on time spent in the kitchen and on food itself, but it comes with a warning. Use the food that you cooked previously. It’s too easy to just put these things in the freezer and take out the one on top. The freezer should be like your store cupboard – organised. Think about those employees in supermarkets who spend so much time rotating items on the shelves and in the fridges and freezers making sure that the oldest products are at the front.

4.      Lastly, don’t fall for the marketed pristine and cosmetically beautiful products that invariably cost more. That wonky or even donky carrot with soil on it might taste even better!

We can try to reduce some of the 60% of food waste which comes from our homes, even if we can’t do anything to reduce the waste from business and hospitality.

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

Want to know more about the Eco Group?

Wakefield Cathedral’s Eco Group brings together members of the congregation, volunteers and staff to work towards making the cathedral a greener place to work and worship.

The Eco Group achieves its goals through a variety of activities, including partnerships with local community groups.

We invite anyone and everyone to reach out if they are interested in joining the eco group, or simply finding out more about what we do.

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