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Case study: bread

A video showing the journey of a loaf of bread, from field to plate, explaining how and why waste occurs.
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The industrial bread-making process begins like all the others, on farms, where wheat is harvested, dried, and stored. Today, over 5 million tonnes of wheat are harvested for bread flour in the UK alone. But yields can vary drastically year to year. Weather conditions are the main cause of food loss. But in a good harvest, an area the size of a football pitch can produce enough wheat for 12 and 1/2 thousand loaves of bread. Huge amounts of resources such as fertilisers, fuels, machinery, and transport are required to cultivate this volume of wheat, producing 388 grammes of CO2 per loaf. That equates to 35% of all CO2 emissions produced during the entire bread-making process.
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Once harvested, wheat is transported to a mill to be milled into flour. It takes around 350 ears of wheat to make enough flour for one loaf of bread. And despite ever-improving efficiencies in flour mills, the loss in weight from wheat to flour is approximately 20%. Next, the flour is transported to a bakery, where the bread-making process as we know it begins. It’s estimated that during the bread production process, 2% to 5% of the total output is wasted, which equates to about 200 to 500,000 loaves every single day.
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Due to its volume and limited shelf life, packaged bread is distributed directly to retailers and suppliers. While retailers are helping to reduce bread waste, challenges such as stock levels, demand, and best before dates still result in about 67 and 1/2 thousand tonnes of baked goods being wasted every year– a third of the UK’s total retail food waste. 99.8% of UK households buy bread. That’s the equivalent of 11 million loaves being sold every single day. But despite our love for it, an estimated 40% of bread produced every year is wasted in the home. There are so many reasons to fix this.
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And by making small changes at home, we can reduce waste, leading to more equitable food distribution globally, improve food security, reduce the reliance on non-renewable resources, lower greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and environmental degradation, and reduce food going to landfill and feed more people.
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What’s stopping us from fixing the problem?
What does it take to turn grains of wheat into the loaf of bread in our shopping trolley? Which valuable resources are used to create and distribute it? How many tonnes of CO2 are emitted? How much is lost during processing? What happens to the loaves I don’t buy?
Watch this video to discover the shocking waste statistics for baked goods.
In Britain, 99.8% of households buy bread, and proceed to throw nearly half of it away. All the resources that have gone into producing it, wasted.
Why do you think we throw so much bread away? Understanding why helps identify ways to reduce the problem. Can you think of any? Please share your thoughts with other learners in the comments section below.
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From Waste to Value: How to Tackle Food Waste

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