33 essential UK food waste statistics for 2021

Food waste in the UK is a grave environmental, social and economic concern that has been a point of discussion for many years. The issue of tackling food waste has led to the implementation of various policies with numerous targets set and invariably missed in the UK.

The government’s support with their Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and its subsequent decreasing budget purely served to encourage an interest in food waste management which ultimately declined in line with the lowering of the incentive amounts.

Engineering has introduced numerous technologies for dealing with food waste. Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a popular technology with a rapidly growing market in the UK. Currently, it is touted as the “best option” for food waste treatment.

Still, food waste is rarely viewed as a potential solution for cost-saving or revenue generation; more generally, it is seen as a problem to be dealt with together with an associated expense. In this article, we have compiled 33 food waste statistics that throw light on the rampant waste issue across different sectors in the UK:

General

  1. While waste prevention and redistribution offer the best way to tackle food waste, over 40% of the 10 million tonnes is considered as ‘unavoidable’ food waste. [WRAP]
  1. Due to COVID-19, food waste collections witnessed a disruption of services by 36% in May, according to 68% of local authorities across the UK. [ADEPT]
  1. The 4.5 million tonnes of food and drink wasted annually in the UK could easily fill 30 Royal Albert Halls. [WRAP]
  1. The UN aims to halve per capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030. [SDG 12.3 Food waste index]
  1. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest producer of CO2 after the USA and China. [EUFIC]

Food production and farming

  1. The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme has imposed restrictions on the use of energy crops, to encourage the use of at least 50% agriculture and food waste feedstocks rather than energy crops. This change came into effect on 22 May 2018. [European Commission]
  1. The amount of surplus food, which was intended to become food, but goes instead to non-waste destinations, such as animal feed, redistribution and to become bio-based materials is estimated at 2.0 million tonnes per annum – 4.0% of all food harvested. [Francis Clark]
  1. Based on the analysis undertaken using the ‘best available data’ approach, the total amount of food surplus and waste is 7.2% of all food harvested. [WRAP]
  1. Fruit and vegetable farmers in the UK waste up to 37,000 tonnes of produce every year – around 16% of their crop. [Feedback Global]
  1. As of 2020, there are around 10,000 food and drink manufacturing sites that collectively produce 3.2m tonnes of wasted food. [Vision 2020]

Grocers and supermarkets

  1. Supermarkets dictate strict cosmetic specifications to farmers, which means they only buy fresh produce that fits the exacting shape, size, and colour specifications – irrespective of the nutritional levels and taste of the produce. [Garden Culture Magazine]
  1. Tesco, Waitrose, Unilever, and Marks & Spencer are among the many companies that have pledged to halve food waste in the UK by 2030. [Independent]
  1. More than 40% of food waste occurs at consumer and grocery retail levels. [UN FAO]
  1. Supermarkets dominate the food supply chain, with big retailers having over 85% of the market share of grocery stores in the UK. [Feedback Global]

Hospitality and leisure

  1. Hotels produce 289,700 tonnes of waste each year, including 79,000 tonnes of food waste (9% of total food waste from the sector), representing a cost of £318 million each year. [Green Hotelier]
  1. Pubs produce 873,800 tonnes of waste each year, including 173,000 tonnes of food waste (19% of total food waste from the sector), representing a cost of £357 million each year. [WRAP]
  1. Restaurants produce 915,400 tonnes of waste each year, including 199,100 tonnes of food waste (22% of total food waste from the sector), representing a cost of £682 million each year. [WRAP]
  1. Other hospitality sectors’ food waste contributions include quick-service restaurants (8.3%), education (13%), staff catering (2%), and healthcare (13%). [Green Hotelier]
  1. Food waste costs the Leisure Sector £241 million each year in the UK. [WRAP]
  1. £376m worth of food is wasted in takeaway outlets every year across the UK. [Circular]

Public sector

  1. The health and social care system has reduced its carbon emissions by 19% since 2007, despite a 27% increase in activity. Since 2010 the sector has cut its water footprint by 21%, and only 15% of NHS waste now goes directly to landfill, with 23% of waste recycled. [SDU Health]
  1. Around 0.5 kilograms of food waste is produced per patient per week. [WRAP]
  1. Unavoidable food waste costs the healthcare sector £230 million each year. [WRAP]
  1. Waste collection and disposal cost local authorities in England and Wales more than £2 billion in England. [CIPFA]
  1. Over 40 million tonnes of rubbish from prisons in England and Wales get dumped at landfills annually. [Resource.co]

Military and FOBs

  1. During 2018-19, the Ministry of Defence diverted 93% of waste and surplus material from landfill, with 55% of its waste going to recycling and reuse, 9% was composted or went for anaerobic digestion, and the remaining 29% went to incineration with energy recovery. [MoD]
  1. Compared with 2017–18, the recycling rate has increased by 3%, and the landfill rate has decreased by 5% in the military stations. [WM]
  1. 1.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from multiple military activities fall outside the scope of the GGC targets, and these emissions are gradually declining. [Environmental Journal]

Biogas and AD

  1. Renewable energy (coming mostly from wind, solar and biomass sources) produced 23.7% of global electricity in the UK in 2016. [The World Biogas Summit]
  1. In the UK, food contributes up to 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with food waste totalling 10mt each year. [Food Manufacture Magazine]
  1. AD can potentially meet 30% of the household electricity and gas demand in the UK. [The World Biogas Summit]

Household

  1. Households in the UK collectively waste 4.5m tonnes of food each year. [The Guardian]
  1. The UK Government has financially committed to funding weekly food waste collections for all households in England from 2023. [Bioenergy Insight]

Over to you

Food waste is a fact of life across all sectors. However, what many businesses and establishments don’t realize is that this waste can be converted into a more cost-efficient service that saves them money. Sign up for a consultation with us to understand how innovative technologies like anaerobic digesters can be used to create green energy.

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