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26 Jun 2019

Three food waste facts everyone needs to know

And how you can help make a difference to stop it destroying our planet

Food waste causes just as much damage to our planet as plastic waste.

Think about all the energy and resources it takes to produce, process and transport food. When we throw food away, we're not only wasting the food, but all the energy that's gone into making it.

For example, the water footprint (the amount of water used in production and supply) of an orange is 80 litres, for 1kg of lettuce it's 240 litres.

Video: All you need to know about food waste

Here are three key food waste facts, as well as more key UK food waste statistics:

1. Food waste produces a potent greenhouse gas

Food that's thrown away and ends up in landfill isn't harmless, it breaks down and releases methane, a greenhouse gas that's 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) for the environment.

In the UK, we throw away 10.2m tonnes of food waste each year, creating more than 20m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions - the same emissions as 3.5m cars.

If global food waste was a country it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.

2. Most food waste comes from our homes

The majority of food waste in the UK comes from households as opposed to restaurants, hotels and businesses, including supermarkets: of the 10.2m tonnes of food wasted, 7.1m tonnes is from households.

What's most concerning is that 5m tonnes of this is edible and equates to £15bn of food each year.

This works out as £70 a month or £840 a year for a family of four.

Hospitality and the food service (catering) is responsible for 1.85m tonnes, food manufacturing 1m tonnes and retail, 0.25m tonnes.

3. Food waste recycling creates energy

There are two ways to recycle food waste: anaerobic digestion and composting.

If your food waste recycling is collected in a separate food bin, it's recycled using anaerobic digestion.

The food waste is put into a tank without oxygen and and broken down by micro-organisms.

As the waste breaks down it produces a biogas, which is collected and used to generate electricity.

In the UK, the energy we get from recycling 1.3m tonnes of food waste in this way creates enough electricity to power 200,000 homes each year and is worth more than £220m to the economy.

The process also produces 'digestate', which is a soil conditioner.

The energy created by recycling one banana peel by anaerobic digestion can fully charge a smartphone twice.

Food waste that is collected mixed with garden waste is composted to create soil conditioner. But compositing doesn't create energy so isn't as environmentally beneficial as anaerobic digestion.

Easy tips to reduce food waste

  • Write a meal plan for the week and only buy what you need.
  • Understand the difference between 'use-by' and 'best-before' dates - 'use by' is about safety and food isn't safe to eat after this date. 'Best before' is about quality and foods are perfectly safe to eat after this date, they just might not taste as good.
  • Check your fridge is at the correct temperature: between 0 and 5u2070C.
  • Keep your fruit and veg in the fridge as it will last longer (apart from potatoes, onions, bananas and pineapple).
  • Keep bagged salad and spinach leaves fresher by putting a piece of kitchen towel in the bag - it will stop the leaves going slimy.
  • Use your leftovers for meals the following day or freeze them for future meals.
  • Freeze what you won't use in time. Food doesn't need to be frozen on the day of purchase and is fine to freeze up to the use-by date. Most foods can be frozen - bread (slice it first), cheese and even eggs once they've been cracked and beaten.

UK food waste statistics

How to do your bit recycling food waste

If you do have food waste, recycle it. Research shows that even people who think they don't create any food waste actually create around 2.9kg a week - think about those tea bags, coffee grounds, veg peelings, bones and egg shells.

If your council offers a food waste collection service, use it. If people don't use food waste collections they can become financially unviable and your council might stop them.

If your council doesn't offer a food waste collection, compost it at home to prevent your food waste going to landfill.

Make use of your food waste caddy

When we surveyed 2,101 British adults in April 2019, the main reasons people gave for not wanting to recycle their food waste were:

Several people also mentioned maggots in bins and caddies, which are a result of flies laying eggs on food.

To prevent maggots, keep food covered when preparing meals, use compostable bags, securely tie bags and keep bins lids closed.

To minimise odours, allow food to cool before putting it in your caddy or bin, squeeze excess liquid out of food and teabags, and store bins out of direct sunlight as heat and moisture encourage decomposition.

Also, line your caddy with newspaper to soak up any 'bin juices' and clean it regularly.

Separating food waste might seem like a chore to begin with, but when you consider the benefits it's a no-brainer.