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Food Waste Revisited: A UK Perspective

In Week 1, we learnt that 32% of all the food produced globally went to waste and if just a quarter of this food could be saved, it would be enough to feed all the hungry people in the world. We know that food waste in industrialised countries, such as the UK, has been shown to stem from three sources: consumer behaviour, the consumer/retailer interface and the lack of coordination between supermarket supply chain actors.

15 million tonnes of food is discarded every year in the UK alone, and of this, almost 4 million tonnes is thrown away despite still being edible. In a world where almost one billion people a day go hungry, this level of food waste is inexcusable, and also highlights that the current food system places greater importance on corporate profits rather than ensuring that everyone has enough to eat.

Not only is the actual food being wasted, but the hidden costs of producing food are wasting energy and resources. Hidden costs include the transportation of the food, the storage of it as well as the energy consumption which goes into producing food. It is suggested that production waste is responsible for around 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, a number which could be greatly reduced if food waste was reduced2.

It is suggested that governments across the world could save as much as £194 billion annually, as well as greatly increasing efficiency, productivity and economic growth. However, there is also a need to include consumers themselves in the movement towards reducing waste. Whilst UK supermarkets are under increasing pressure from the public to improve significant waste reductions, the UK government remains adamant that this movement should continue to be voluntary for all supermarkets. France however has recently passed a new law in which supermarkets will be banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food, enforcing that ‘waste’ food must instead be donated to charities or be made into animal feed3. This law also includes an education programme about food in schools and businesses, ensuring that the public are also being engaged in the issue of food waste. Perhaps the world could learn a lesson or two from France about the actions which could be taken to fight the issue of food waste?

In the next Step, we will look at some of the initiatives being taken to address the the amount of food wasted in the UK restaurant sector.


Optional further reading/viewing:

Lovefoodhatewaste

Love Food Hate Waste is an organisation supported by Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP), a not-for-profit organisation in the UK. Their goal is to raise awareness of food waste, and helping people to reduce their own household waste by using up leftovers and buying more than they need. Their comprehensive website includes a shopping list, sell by date information and a smartphone app, which provides recipes on how to use up leftovers.

BBC Magazine article Viewpoint: The rejected vegetables that aren’t even wonky

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This article is from the free online course:

Our Hungry Planet: Agriculture, People and Food Security

University of Reading