By Dhriti Dawda.
In 2018, The UK wasted 9.52 million tonnes of food, including from within the supply chain, and in households. Indeed, 70% of this waste is from households (WRAP, 2020), a value which was the same in 2021 as it was in 2020. This corresponds to an annual 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (WRAP, 2021). Since over two-thirds of food intended to be eaten in households, 4.5 million tonnes, ended up being wasted, this stresses the power of the public to be able to make a difference in both reducing their carbon footprint and daily food waste.
Why is this food being wasted?
Every day, the average UK household throws away 41% of food that is labelled as being past its expiry date, 25% due to ‘personal preferences’ and 25% are leftovers (Jackman, 2021). This highlights that the public does not have enough information about food safety to reduce this percentage of waste, or enough knowledge on the right ways to use leftover food. It was pointed out in the EU’s Refresh project (https://www.eu-refresh.org/), that consumers could also be misunderstanding the significance of dates on the label (Milne, 2012), incorrectly storing foods (Terpstra et al., 2005), preparing too much food and then storing those leftovers sub-optimally too (van Geffen et al., 2016).
A study made between 2006-2012 on 3024 households in Scotland, found that from ‘all the product categories analysed (biscuits, crisps and savoury snacks), purchases were most influenced by volume promotion’ compared to price or price or price promotions (Kopasker et al., 2020). The ubiquity of sales promotions has influenced consumers into bulk buying excess food that we may not need, and so we must become more conscious of our purchases.
According to research by Cox and Downing (2007), consumers who are wasting food do so for personal reasons. This could be the taste of the food, and having to eat items that are expiring sooner, rather than what is desired at that moment.
What can we do to reduce our impact?
Effective ways to reduce food waste in your household including planning meals in advance.
Following a pre-set meal plan, ensures that only what is intended to be eaten is bought in the shop. Therefore, there are no surprises of a rotten zucchini at the back of the fridge weeks later. Meal plans can be easily found online for a whole week, or simply by shopping every few days, rather than a weekly shop.
Secondly, storing foods correctly can have a tremendous impact on its quality and shelf life. For example, storing bread in the freezer can prolong its shelf life out to 6 months (Holland & Barrett, 2020) and using the freezer for certain fruit and veg with a low water content, increases the shelf life by 8-12 months (Burton-Hughes, 2019) after the date on the label. Eggs can also be eaten 2 days after their expiry date (BBC, 2011), and a quick “at home” experiment of placing an egg in a bowl of water can tell you whether its still ok or not. Covering up food when stored in the refrigerator, optimally in airtight containers, prevents oxidation and bacterial contamination, and more importantly, by following the storage instructions on the pack. Being more mindful of whether a food is truly unsafe to eat by using our senses (smell, taste) or a simple online search could result in some useful answers.
Solutions to food waste due to personal preferences could involve food waste apps such as Olio and Too Good To Go, which are also being used by restaurants in Reading and Kitche, which allows you to track the food you have left in your house to better plan shopping for food. Furthermore, simply sharing food in between friends or neighbours is an easy away to take something otherwise unwanted and make use of it. For an innovative way to use banana peels, rather than discarding them, see this recipe for banana bread.
Within Reading, there are a few schemes at the forefront of tackling food waste while providing for the community: This includes Food share where surplus food from Coop is handed out to people in need, Foodshare also has a composter for excess surplus food; The Wellness Centre donates surplus food from local retailers for care packs and hot meals; and Veg4Reading collects produce from community allotments for charities. These organisations view community barriers where families are unsure how to use the food or are reluctant to try something new. Food4families and local partners are working together for solutions. (Ducker, 2022).
Raising awareness of our own food waste and educating others in the household can have a drastic positive impact on other people’s lives and on the environment.
(Kopasker et al. 2020) https://nutrition.bmj.com/content/5/1/62
(BBC 2011) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16183058
(Holland and Barrett 2020) https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/the-health-hub/food-drink/how-to-freeze-bread/
(Burton-Hugues 2019) https://www.highspeedtraining.co.uk/hub/how-long-can-you-store-frozen-food-for/
(Terpstra et al. 2005) https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/00070700510606918/full/html
(van Geffen et al. 2016) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590289X19300234