The Paradox of food waste in households during the Covid-19 pandemic

Information regarding the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Covid-19 has been a part of everyone’s life since 2020, impacting both the individuals and enterprises. The spread of the virus has proven to have a negative impact on various businesses and service providers and the consequences are still visible.

One way of illustrating the impact of the pandemic is by bringing up for discussion the evolution of GDP of a country during the years 2020 and 2021. Taking the United Kingdom's case for example, there are statistics which show that the country’s Gross Domestic Product has decreased with approximately 9.7% during 2020, this being the highest drop registered by the country since data began to be collected in 1948. The country is now recovering and after two years since the outbreak of the pandemic it finally managed to get their GDP at the level it was before 2020. (Daniel Harari et al., 2021)

The UK is here a model example of what happened to the economies of lots of nations around the world in the height of the pandemic. Covid-19 had a significant impact on different countries’ activities.

But what happened to food waste?

Having presented above the information regarding the general impact of the pandemic, it is time to move the focus towards our main issue discussed at Food Circle: the food waste. The purpose of this article is to assess whether there has been a relationship between food waste and the coronavirus pandemic and if there have been improvements on reducing food waste or not during the lockdowns.

It is important to mention that the coronavirus pandemic has changed people’s purchasing behaviours, especially at the beginning. When the lockdowns started to be imposed in most of the countries, the fear of being left without different categories of nourishment became common among individuals.

The main problem was the fear that some necessary goods would no longer be available due to eventual disruptions in the food supply chain. That generated a phenomenon that was expected to happen: a lot of people started to purchase enormous quantities of goods, emptying the shelves in the supermarkets and piling up the aliments in their households.

Having these in mind, we would think there has been a significant increase in the wasted food during the coronavirus pandemic. Unexpectedly, different surveys conducted in countries among Europe have proven the opposite. The main findings were that, during 2020 especially, the populations in those countries have showcased food waste reduction behaviour and there has been an increased awareness of the environmental consequences of food waste. That means that food waste actually decreased in households, even though people bought large quantities of food. (Gioacchino Pappalardo et al., 2020)

What are two reasons for decreased food waste?

Food Management skills

First of all, the possibility of not having access to aliments has determined people to be more conscious when it comes to throwing away food. Along with this, having more time on their hands meant that people were able to try out new recipes. The purpose of this was to find creative and delicious ways to use the majority of the food they have purchased instead of throwing it away. Did you know we actually have some tasty recipes you can try? I recommend you check them on our website:

Rising Prices

Since there has been a high increase in the demand for certain goods and, at the same time, supply-chain problems appeared during the pandemic, there have been changes in the consumer prices.

Increased prices for food led to people buying smaller quantities of food which helped decrease food waste.

In a survey conducted in Italy, 33% of the sample of respondents reported a substantial or mild decrease in the amount of food waste reduced food waste amounts during the lockdown. Only 6% of them were actually able to notice an increase.

(Gioacchino Pappalardo et al., 2020)

Thus, expected to increase due to change in purchasing behaviour, the food waste has proven to decrease during the pandemic.

Food prevention initiative during the pandemic

Naturally, during the pandemic the countries’ focus was to protect public health. In addition, there has been significant support for businesses and individuals in order to ease their process of coping with the changes that occured in the period. Nevertheless, there have also been examples where the food waste has increased, encouraging countries to come up with food waste prevention initiatives. Here are some examples of some great approaches to reducing food waste during the peak of Covid-19:

  1. Denmark: changing regulations regarding food labeling

( source:

  • Denmark has tried to modify their current regulations in order to ensure food supply to their population and minimize the waste in terms of food and packaging. (Newsroom - European Comission, 2020)

2. Netherlands: Finding other destinations for surplus food


  • The Netherlands has tried to introduce alternatives for surplus food. Even though it was harder due to the sanitary conditions and lack of labour available on site, the country managed to continue donations of food to food banks.

  • In order to support local farmers, a marketplace has been implemented which is meant to connect customers with their potential local producers.

  • There have been multiple campaigns in the media to raise awareness towards the issue (Newsroom - European Comission, 2020)

3. Greece: food donations and food waste prevention campaigns


Greece has done a significant effort to keep the food waste minimum during the pandemic:

  • The food remained from firms who needed to stop operating during covid was donated to the more vulnerable people (ex: those in self-isolation or incapable of buying their own groceries)

  • There have been campaigns on Social Media regarding the food waste consequences and prevention. (Newsroom - European Comission, 2020)

In conclusion, there has been a paradox regarding the food waste in households during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic: people bought piles of food but actually decreased food waste. This happened together with the approaches that different countries took to support raising the awareness towards the issue.

Writer and Editor: Anda Codreanu, Henry Mitchell




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