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Waste Not Want Not

Even one hundred years ago, food waste was a recognised issue, in fact the Women’s Institute, (WI) when it first began in 1915 immediately set about targeting the issue of reducing food waste. Ninety-nine years later, they are still working towards the same goal and sadly, the issue remains.

Globally, we produce approximately four billion tons of food each year and a study conducted by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, (SIK) in 2011 revealed that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year.

The quantities of loss differ substantially in individual continents; in North America and Oceania the total food loss and waste per person each year breaks down to 295 kg each, Europe follows closely behind with a total loss of 280 kg of waste per person.


The study went into further detail, revealing how much of this food loss occurred at the production and retail stages and how much was directly wasted by consumers. In Europe, the figures showed that of the total 280 kg per head, 190 kg was lost before it ever reached the consumer and consumers were subsequently responsible for the loss of a further 90 kg, (almost one third of the total waste).

This phenomenal amount of food waste is a global issue with huge implications for our environment. In addition to the adverse effects on our climate, land and biodiversity, the shocking amount of water that is wasted annually on irrigation, to grow food that will never be eaten, is enough to supply 9 billion people with 200 litres per day for an entire year.


With households in Europe discarding an average of up to one third of all purchased food, it is clear that this is an area that needs to be urgently addressed. Recent figures from Oxfam, report that 1 in 5 people living in the UK are living in poverty. Outside of the UK, millions of people are undernourished and with these figures in mind, it is arguably immoral that so much food is carelessly wasted each year.

Changing consumer behaviour is no simple task. Implementing a lasting change would require us to first examine our cultural values and attitudes towards food, before we could ever hope to change our daily behaviour patterns as consumers.

Firstly, we need to change our purchasing habits; checking use by dates, only buying what we actually need and taking care not to purchase too many perishable items at once.

Secondly, we need to change the way we store, cook and eat our food. Convenience food has led to a decrease in the type of cooking that utilises all of those food items that might otherwise go to waste… Cooking meals from scratch, planning food shopping and menus around items you already have can eliminate a great deal of waste.


What is causing so much waste prior to the consumer? Food waste occurs during several stages within the food industry, here are a few for example:

Crop Failure – Weather conditions and pest infestation can lead to huge losses prior to harvest.

Storage – There is the potential for some crops to be lost in the storage stage due to unfavourable conditions or pests.

Selective Harvest – The importance placed on the appearance of many crops leads to huge quantities of crops being discarded based on appearance alone.

Surplus Production – Farmers are under a great deal of pressure to fulfill their contractual agreements with suppliers and therefore grow an excess to give them a margin of error. Surplus crops that are not required will typically go to waste.

Retail Waste – Huge quantities of food are disposed of because they are not sold before their use by dates. Some retailers are involved with schemes that ensure that some of this waste is diverted to charitable organisations, others discard the lot.


Dealing with this global issue requires intervention at numerous different levels; the whole system is inefficient and makes no sense ethically, environmentally or economically.  We need to re-examine every step of the chain, reducing the amount of food that is created needlessly in the first instance, re-evaluating some of our bizarre standards about the ‘beauty’ of our produce and disposing of any food waste in a responsible way.

Up to twenty percent of the waste arriving at our UK landfills is food waste. This waste will slowly rot, producing harmful greenhouse gases, despite the fact that there are plenty of better alternatives, food waste could be:

  • Used to produce energy & fuel
  • Composted to produce excellent quality soil and fertiliser
  • Used to feed animals

With the problem only going to get more pressing as the world population increases and the effects of climate change increase it appears we need to go back to the drawing board and find a solution that actually works. The race is on.

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