I was very pleased to see another celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, raising awareness on the food waste issue.  Hugh’s War on Waste (episode 1) was aired last week along with Jamie Oliver’s campaign for us to embrace the ugly fruit and veg earlier this year.  It is shocking to see the amount of food wasted in the UK and it is so unnecessary. 





If we look at the food supply chain as a whole, we can see that, according to WRAP (the sustainability agency), food waste occurs from a number of different sources.  Almost half of the food wasted is lost at the production stage before even reaching the retail arena!

An article from the Telegraph reported, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally (about 1.3 billion tons per year). Also, according to WRAP, each year 90,000 tonnes of produce in the UK is sent to landfill.  Much of this is fruit and vegetables which has been rejected purely for aesthetic reasons: the Soil Association reckons that in the UK, a staggering 20-40% of produce is rejected simply because it doesn’t look quite right. (Telegraph, January 2015)

In Hugh’s first episode, he poignantly illustrated how a major supermarket rejected 40% of a parsnip farmer’s crop because they were misshapen or too large or small.  After years of business, the parsnip supplier subsequently went out of business, unable to sell a large proportion of their crop.  Historically, supermarkets rejected imperfect fruit and vegetables due to EU measures which have subsequently been relaxed.



The good news is that supermarkets are making progress on reducing packaging and redistributing surplus food and are well on their way to meet their 2020 targets (WRAP).  Supermarkets are starting to sell more imperfect fruit and vegetables at a lower price. Consumers are open to buying ‘wonky’ fruit and veg provided it still tastes the same and provides the same nutritional values, which it will.  And, if the supermarkets reject the extremely imperfect produce, this food should be used elsewhere in ready meals, soups, smoothies, sold ready prepared, as ultimately this is how the produce ends up anyway.



It was estimated that in 2013, total avoidable food waste by UK consumers was estimated to cost them £12 billion a year.  Wasting this food costs the average household £470 a year, rising to almost £700 for a family with children, the equivalent of around £60 a month.  UK food and grocery companies wasted £5 billion per year (WRAP).


Food waste

The great British consumer throws away approximately 7.1 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink could have been eaten, most of which is fresh food.

I’m afraid to say through poor planning consumers are buying too much food, and not using the food they buy to its best potential and not checking use-by dates.  It makes financial and environmental sense to reduce the amount we buy and to ensure we use all of what we buy.  Supermarkets have stopped promoting buy-one-get-one-free offers to discourage consumers over-buying. They also avoid waste by selling off almost out of date foods at a heavily reduced price towards the end of the day.



I’m not saying we should go back to rationing, but we should be more organised, even if more consumers are convenience shopping and shopping ‘on the go’, we should all think ahead:

  • Have a food plan and don’t buy too much food
  • Check use by dates regularly and use the food that is going out of date first
  • Be imaginative with your leftovers, there are some great apps and resources available which give suggestions on what to do with your leftovers e.g. or the Food Rescue app (created by a Sainsbury’s partnership with Google)
  • Freeze surplus food that isn’t going to be used before it goes off – many consumers say they buy frozen food because it lasts longer (see our frozen category market analysis here)
  • Give surplus food to someone else – all of the supermarkets and some restaurant chains are now donating surplus food to local charities, consumers should be neighbourly and pass on their surplus food to others too. Think, if the leftover food really is not edible, is there another way we can use it responsibly without throwing it away – composting, feed to your/someone else’s pet (within reason!), or use the local councils food waste bins if they are provided rather than discarding in black bins.  Most supermarket chains use unavoidable food waste that is not fit for consumption in anaerobic digestion processing to generate energy.  RecycleNow clearly illustrate the amount of resources used in the production of cheese and if thrown away, how cheese releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, at landfill rather than harmlessly decomposing

In conclusion, it is ‘criminal’ that farmers across the globe go to the time and trouble using valuable resources to grow and supply food and so much is being wasted, especially when there are so many vulnerable people who would benefit from this much needed food.  Every one of us throughout the food supply chain needs to work together to reduce food waste, for so many reasons.  Through careful researching, educating, planning and common sense we all can and should do better to eradicate food waste, every step of the way.

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Justine Boston
01962 842211
Article date - 09/11/2015
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