Why do we throw good food away at home? What can be done to reduce household food waste? These are just some of the questions addressed in WRAP’s new report.
WRAP, which stands for ‘Waste & Resources Action Programme’, is the UK’s main waste prevention organisation.
There’s so much good stuff in their new report , entitled ’Household food and drink waste: A product focus‘, we thought we’d share a few of the key findings!
The research builds on an earlier report, published in November, entitled ‘Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK 2012‘. Whilst this report revealed avoidable household food and drink waste fell 21% between 2007 and 2012, it also highlighted the scale of the opportunity remaining…
In the average UK household, six meals are wasted each week. That amounts to 4.2 million tonnes of avoidable food waste a year.
WRAP’s new ‘products’ report looks more in depth at what items are wasted, whether wasted items are packaged, the size of individual instances of waste etc.
(And look out for their next report: ‘Household food and drink waste: a people focus’ will explore correlations between different factors, such as socio-demographic and behavioural).
18.5% of household food purchases became waste in 2012. Of this, 11.7% was avoidable waste.
(i) ‘Avoidable food waste’ is food wasted that was edible at some point prior to disposal. For example, milk, lettuce, fruit juice and meat – it excludes bones and skin.
Over 80% of the food wasted in 2012 was in instances greater than 50 grams. Meaning that, reducing just a few incidents of waste, would greatly reduce the amount of waste.
48% of avoidable waste was cited as ‘not being used in time’
For one third of such instances (16% of all avoidable food waste), a date label was mentioned as the trigger for disposal
The products most often disposed of for this reason were dairy and eggs (mainly yoghurt & and eggs), followed by drink (predominantly fruit juice and smoothies)
For the remaining two thirds of food thrown away (32% of all avoidable food waste), other reasons, such as ‘looking’ or ‘smelling off’, were the trigger
Mainly associated with fresh fruit, vegetables and salad, bakery and dairy (mainly milk).
19% of avoidable waste was associated with ‘too much being served’
Drink contributed the most to the total, followed by meals, fresh vegetables and salads
12% of avoidable food waste as associated with ‘too much being cooked or prepared’
Mainly made up of meals, fresh vegetables and salads, meat and fish
14% of avoidable food waste (580,000 tonnes) was generated due to personal preferences
The majority of this was associated with ‘fussy eating’
12% of all household food waste was thrown away in its packaging
- Nearly one third of this was in packaging that had not been opened
- 80% was packs containing more than 25% of their contents
Given that 48% of avoidable household food waste is associated with food not being used in time, helping people to buy the right amount of food is key.
* Address the size of packs sold:
- Ensure there are different pack sizes available to meet the needs of a wide range of people
- Find innovative ways to minimise the difference in price per kilogramme of different pack sizes (since some smaller packs cost more per kg than larger sizes)
- Change multi-packs. For example, half of yoghurt wasted is thrown away in unopened packaging, indicating that multi-packs may be only part-used.
* Pack size isn’t the only issue though. For example, a lot of food thrown away in packaging is unopened. Nor is it always an option to change the pack size. Therefore encouraging behaviour change is also important, helping people to:
- Plan meals
- Check food stocks at home prior to shopping
- Use the freezer pro-actively e.g. eating one night from the freezer
- Keep an eye on date labels and modifying meal plans accordingly
* Make tools available, such as bag clips, freezer pens and storage containers
* Encourage people to use the freezer more
* Increase the speed with which ‘freeze before the date mark’ labelling is rolled out and communicate this change
(i) New freeze date labelling being rolled out by retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, makes it clear that consumers don’t have to freeze goods on the day of purchase, but can do so any time up to the ‘use by’ date. WRAP’s full freeze date guidance can be found in this PDF.
* Encourage people to serve smaller initial portions or allow people to serve themselves
* Provide tasty recipe ideas, inspiring people to use up foods
* Continue to remove ‘display until’ dates to make the important dates less ambiguous. Also, provide clear information as to what ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates mean.
(i) ‘Display until’ and ‘Sell by’ dates are for shop staff, not customers, but the confusion can lead to household food being thrown away incorrectly when it’s still fine to eat. WRAP had been encouraging retailers to drop these labels.
‘Best before’ dates are used on most foods but relate only to quality e.g. food that might go stale. It’s only ‘use by’ dates that relate to food safety. ‘Use by’ dates are for highly perishable foods that, after a period, present a risk of food poisoning.
For a simple explanation of food date labels, check out the infographic below from WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste initiative:
Blog cover image courtesy of flickr user Bob Peters.