Globally, around one-third of the food and drink produced goes to waste at different points along the supply chain, from harvesting to during transportation to when households discard excess food.
In the UK mainly, 6.7 million tonnes of food is wasted per year — which is a loss of £10.2 billion every year.
This wasted food is a major contributor to climate change, not only because of all the resources expended on growing it but also from the pollutants emitted when the waste food is incinerated or sent to landfill.
Landfill sites, in particular, emit methane gas as the food rots, which is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
In fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the third-highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world after the US and China!
There is also the cost element to food waste, which works out to about eight meals per family per week, or about 60 pounds per four-member family per month.
How to reduce food waste and tackle climate change
Since the UK has signed up to the UN’s global commitment to reduce food waste by half by the year 2030, it is essential for both individuals and businesses to also do their bit in meeting this ambitious goal:
1. Planning ahead
Particularly now that everyone is cooking most of their meals at home, planning for the week’s meals is crucial. Individuals should always make a shopping list to ensure they only purchase what they need.
It can be tempting to buy extra items at the supermarket, such as a new variety of sauce or beverage or larger food packets, to get a bulk discount. However, more often than not, this leads to unused food piling up at home.
Instead, individuals must buy only the items and the quantities that they will need for the week. If they end up needing more, they can always make another trip to the supermarket. On the other hand, supermarkets and grocers should keep an inventory of which items are most frequently wasted.
Having accurate forecasting models in place can help them keep track of orders, analyse each product’s shelf life, and make predictions about what the demand will be like in the next quarter, month or week. That way, they can order those supplies later or reduce the amounts of food items they order.
2. Be flexible about 'best before dates'
Many people are still not aware that the ‘best before dates on food packages are not always an indicator of the food going bad.
‘Use by’ dates are certainly an indicator of freshness, but often, foods such as yoghurt, ketchup, spreads and relishes are fit for consumption well beyond the ‘best before’ dates mentioned.
Instead of blindly following them, individuals can carefully look at the food and give it a sniff. If it smells bad, it is no longer fit to eat, but if it smells and looks fine, it is normally safe to use it.
Food producers can also educate consumers about the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on the packaging, so they do not throw our functional foods.
Other ways of educating them include using up leftovers optimally and creatively and issuing smaller packets of food to be consumed appropriately.
3. Check the temperature of your fridge
One big reason for food to go rotten is that the fridge temperature is too warm for safe storage. Ideally, the fridge needs to be set between three and five degrees Celsius to do the job correctly. Storing all food items in the refrigerator’s appropriate compartments will also help preserve them for longer.
On the other hand, supermarkets can have separate refrigerators for upcycled foods (such as wonky-looking fruits and vegetables) and gluten-free and dairy-free products that health-conscious and pro-recycling consumers love to purchase.
4. Use a food donation app
Suppose a supermarket is stuck with leftover ingredients on hand and does not have enough space to store them safely. In that case, they can use a food donation app such as OLIO to give it away to food charities or to members of their community who may be suffering from food insecurity.
Another helpful app to consider is Too Good To Go, which makes extra food from restaurants and supermarkets available for customers at reduced prices.
5. Collaborate with partners
A great deal of food waste can be eliminated if grocery retailers work closely with the farmers from whom they source fresh food.
They can supply them with accurate forecasts of how much produce will be needed and help them improve techniques to boost farm productivity. In 2015, Sainsbury’s partnered with farmers to extend the UK lamb season by five weeks.
By analysing the demand for lamb meat, the supermarket chain allowed lambs to reach full maturity, thereby ensuring excellent quality and availability for their customers. It instilled confidence in the sheep farmers to sell lamb meat at optimal prices.
6. Set up a compost garden
It is effortless to set up a compost heap in the garden or kitchen backyard. All individual households need are a compost bin (even an old flower pot will do), some earth, and plenty of kitchen scraps.
This not only keeps food waste out of landfills but also produces an incredible fertiliser, which they can use to grow plants and vegetables at home.
7. Involve the next generation
Often, children may throw away food items without knowing the importance of managing waste and using food smartly. By teaching them about food waste, one can get them to contribute to smarter shopping and involve them in fun cooking projects with leftover food.
For instance, leftover vegetables can be blended into soup or leftover fruit made into a sauce for topping ice-cream. Joining the movement, OLIO launched a #Cook4Kids campaign to invite the public to cook for the children in their communities who were missing out on lunches during the lockdown.
Wrapping it up
We at Waste2ES believe food waste is a valuable resource that unnecessarily ends up in landfill sites. While households can shop sensibly, do their own composting and be creative in the kitchen, businesses should have optimal logistic processes, including deploying innovative technologies to convert that food waste into energy and revenue ethically.
Climate change is a serious issue. The sooner businesses invest in proper systems and bring about a behavioural change, the sooner they would be able to make enormous strides in diverting waste from landfill and putting it to good use.
If you are interested in learning about how we can help convert food waste into revenue, please contact us today!