Food waste in the UK: pre-lockdown vs present day

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, people were accustomed to eating the food of their choice wherever they liked, be it at home or a cafe, restaurant or take out. Over the last few months, the food industry has undergone drastic changes with household meals becoming more frequent and more economical, and restaurants, pubs and takeaway outlets facing an uncertain future.

In the process, the quantities and sources of food waste have also changed, with new waste management trends developing across the food chain.

Pre-lockdown food waste vs present day

Data shows that 50-70% of pre-lockdown food waste came from UK households, amounting to about 6.6 million tonnes or about GBP 500 per household per year. With social distancing and limited outings the new norm, research from sustainability charity Hubbub says that 57% of UK consumers value food more than they did before.

Other data from waste reduction charity Wrap shows that there is a 34% reduction in wasted bread, potatoes, chicken and milk at home.  At the same time, people are proactively trying to waste less food by using up what they have at home, having a meal plan in place before getting groceries and cooking in bulk to freeze portions for later.

Household eating patterns have changed, to include more meals at home and more meals eaten together as a family.

Business-specific changes due to the pandemic

Another positive impact has been the acceleration in food redistribution operations. Some of the names that are doing a fantastic job are as follows:


Fareshare, the UK’s largest hunger and food waste fighting charity, now delivers enough food for two million meals, as compared to one million before the lockdown. They have also piloted a scheme to help reduce farm waste and have rescued 3000 tonnes of produce so far.

City Harvest

City Harvest, another charity focused on eliminating food insecurity and food waste across London, has also doubled its meal serving activities with the help of kitchens loaned to them by the Savoy, the Crystal Palace football club, Annabel’s and Wimbledon’s All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Food waste apps are playing an important role too – while sharing apps like OLIO allow households to give their surplus food to others who need it, and others like Too Good To Go are helping to sell off surplus dairy products to consumers.

The grocery retail sector: coping not-so-fine

At the same time, grocery retailers and supermarket owners are facing a new set of difficulties concerning managing all the extra food surplus. Supermarkets typically follow their hyper-efficient systems that are not flexible enough to allow for extra food absorption or altered distribution patterns.

Moreover, items that have always been portioned and packaged in bulk are tough to alter or sell to individual buyers looking for smaller portions – the flour shortage was a case in point. Other food items are going to waste because of changes in the catering industry.

For instance, many fish-and-chip shops have closed, and others are serving fewer diners owing to social distancing, which has resulted in 95000 tonnes of chipping potatoes simply waiting in growers’ stores. Much of this will simply end up being fed to animals or recycled.

Leverage Anaerobic Digestion to convert food waste into power

We at Waste2ES believe food waste, although inevitable, is a valuable resource that should never end up in landfill sites. Of course, it helps to have optimally-run return logistic processes; food waste is an ongoing, costly issue.

By deploying innovative technologies such as our iD-R-5K Compact Anaerobic Digestion system, businesses can convert their high-volume food waste into energy (and revenue), ethically and sustainably.

Our i-FDR depackaging system is perfect for those businesses that don’t have time to separate the packaged and unpackaged food.

It is true these systems require investment; however, they help in significantly improving the outcomes for food waste with excellent ROI. Do you want to know more about our iD-R systems? Please contact us.

Summing it up

Overall, it is difficult to judge the exact impact on food waste at this point, as there have been both positives and negatives. It is clear, however, that the lockdown will lead to a significant shift in the way British households view food, both at home and outside – just as food rationing did during the war years.

Given that the UK has committed to cutting its food waste by half by 2030, COVID-19 and the subsequent safety measures might have made that goal more achievable.

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Turning food waste into reliable sources of revenue generation.

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