Food Waste Around the World, Episode 37: UK
Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle’s project aimed at providing information and raising awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students coming from different countries with the aim of understanding how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a uniquely multicultural environment.
Today we speak with Ewan from the United Kingdom!
"With better education and understanding of food, the individuals in the UK would be better equipped at getting the most out of their products and in turn saving money."
Hello Ewan. Thank you very much for taking the time to inform us about the food waste situation in the UK. Would you mind introducing yourself?
Hello, my name is Ewan and I have spent the last few years studying Graphic Design at university. During my studies, we worked on a project focusing on Food Waste in the UK, working with a Sheffield-based non-profit called Food Works, which was the first time I opened my eyes to the extent of the problem. Since that experience, I have been doing what I can to be on the right side in the fight against wasted food.
How would you describe the food waste situation in the UK?
The situation in the UK is probably quite similar to the rest of the world: pretty awful! In 2018 the charity Waste and Resources Action Programme, also known as WRAP, reported that the UK produced a whopping 9.5 million tonnes of food waste. Of these, 6.4 million tonnes could have been eaten, meaning over 15 billion meals were wasted in one year. The most wasted food items are Potatoes, Bread and Milk, items that are considered a staple within a UK household.
However, it is not just in households that waste occurs - across agriculture, manufacturing and distribution there are huge wastages. One reason, especially for fruits and vegetables, is the selective choosing of only the ripest and best-looking fruit to be sent to supermarkets. This leads to thousands of perfectly edible and tasty products being discarded. Furthermore, it is common for suppliers to produce much larger quantities of products than ordered, just in case whole-sale purchasers ask for more, preventing a loss in extra revenue. However, this means that when it is not needed and unsold, it is thrown away. Another new area of wastage is through food deliveries. If you are not answering when a food delivery arrives, it is cheaper and more convenient for leading food delivery companies in the UK to throw away mass quantities of food items rather than return them to the warehouses.
This is shocking but really informative. Thank you! How are you feeling about measurements and regulations tackling food waste? Is there enough done or what else could be done?
Well, we have seen a decline in food waste of about 15% since 2007 and hopefully, this decline in waste is set to continue as the UK population and businesses change the ways they view and approach food.
There has been a rise in organisations tackling food waste in the UK in the last few years and this they begin to be supported by government fundings who have said they are fully committed to achieving the UN’s SDG 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030. In fact, the Government said that food waste was “morally wrong, environmentally damaging, and costs money”. They also outlined steps that it would take to tackle food waste, including a £15 million pilot fund, annual reporting, legal powers and intervention, appointing food waste champions and supporting cross-sector collaboration. In 2019 one of the organisations which have received funding was Food Works Sheffield!
In December 2018, the Government published statutory guidance for people or businesses that produce, carry, keep, dispose of, treat, import or have control of food and drink waste on how to deal with surplus and waste. The hierarchy consisted of nine options to tackle surplus and waste, starting with prevention and redistribution and only sending waste to landfills or sewers as a last resort.
So, it was up to you, what would you improve to prevent further food wastage?
Interestingly 70% came from individual households but that does not mean it is always the consumer’s fault. The labelling system in the UK which often includes Best Before Dates as opposed to Use By, means many individuals throw away perfectly edible food without even checking its quality. With better education and understanding of food, the individuals in the UK would be better equipped at getting the most out of their products and in turn saving money. For instance, understanding ways of making food last longer, like freezing or pickling is key.
Other important factors are knowing how to plan meals properly and also being able to buy items singularly, as opposed to large bags of plastic-wrapped ingredients. This would allow consumers to buy what they need, not what they are given. Essentially, I think that by going back to the traditional style of fresh food markets in the UK, learning how to check visibly when food is usable and changing compulsive buying habits, we will be able to get more out of food.
Thank you very much. This was a very interesting conversation. Have an amazing day, Ewan!
Interviewer: Lea Annikki Kaiser
Interviewed: Ewan Gill
Editor and Writer: Lea Annikki Kaiser
BBC. (n.d.). Food Waste: What is it and how does it affect the environment? - CBBC Newsround. BBC. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/54466096
Dray, S. (2021, March 12). Food waste in the UK - House of Lords Library. House of Lords Library. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/food-waste-in-the-uk/