Food Waste Action Week - Denis the Dustcart Blog
Published: 7 March 2023
In his regular feature, Denis the Dustcart talks about Food Waste Action Week. Food waste is a big problem. Many of you reading this blog will know it – some in-depth, others less so.
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You may even be aware that this week is Food Waste Action Week.
If you are, read on to expand your understanding – or at least to have your enthusiasm for reducing food waste reinforced.
If you aren’t aware, well, Food Waste Action Week is when organisations and people across the country gather behind Love Food Hate Waste’s campaign to raise awareness of food waste and to encourage simple behaviours that can make a big difference.
But you won’t be alone in not knowing. In fact, only 39% of people in the UK understand how food waste is driving climate breakdown.
No doubt more than 39% of the population will have heard it said that food waste is damaging our environment, but we need to understand how something does harm before we can know what to do about it.
When, having achieved a decent grasp of the issues presented by wasting food, we reach the stage of wanting to build food waste reduction strategies into our daily routines, we suddenly realise there’s help everywhere. Love Food Hate Waste is a great place to start: the site hosts numerous recipes, hints, tips and advice on everything from understanding ‘use by’ dates to what we can freeze.
It’s a great resource – a vital resource, given the urgency of the situation.
Food waste ‘caused between 8 and 10% of the emissions of the gases responsible for global warming in the period 2010-2016’, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Yet in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, the UN reports that nearly 9% of the world’s population is hungry.
Many of the people most affected by food scarcity live in poorer countries where the majority of the world’s food is grown.
Furthermore, these are people in countries that contribute significantly less harm to the climate than ours do in the industrialised north and yet are on the front lines of climate breakdown.
Hardly seems fair, does it?
Climate breakdown, of course, means humans will be able to grow less food in future. The earth won’t be able to support the yields we demand currently. Prices will rise; poverty will increase; nutrition will fall; more people will go hungry.
In making the connection between food waste and the health of our planet, many people will hold supermarket and food vendor ‘throw-out’ policies to be primarily responsible. Most will be surprised to learn that 70% of food wasted in the UK actually happens at home.
Of the 9.5 million tonnes of food that gets wasted every year in the UK, 6.6 million tonnes is food we’ve brought into our homes.
Most of that, of course, comes from supermarkets, so there is clearly a correlation between household food waste and supermarket-driven consumerism – but we can’t abdicate responsibility for our personal part in it.
Sadly, evidence suggests that too many of us are doing just that. According to the Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP), in 2018-19 the number of people who strongly agreed that ‘everyone has a responsibility to minimise the food they waste’ dropped by 9%.
Of the 6.6 million tonnes of food households throw away each year, 4.5 million tonnes was avoidable.
The Food Waste Trends Survey 2019 by WRAP estimated that 18.4% of our milk goes un-drunk.
Considering the effect dairy production has on our climate (a study carried out by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) determined that in one year the world’s thirteen largest dairy companies together produce almost the same quantity of greenhouse gas emissions as the whole of the UK), the fact that nearly 1/5th of the UK’s milk is wasted is alarming.
Over a fifth of chicken (20.5%) goes uneaten. Nearly a quarter of potatoes (22.8%) get thrown away.
This is stuff we can and should deal with.
Separate food waste collection is certainly part of the solution (that’s why Exeter City Council is introducing the service), but it isn’t enough on its own.
There is no free pass to wasting food.
If I buy a pack of tomatoes and end up not eating a few, throwing them in my food waste bin will only help prevent the harm they will do as waste. It won’t negate the impact of their production – of cultivation, harvesting, transportation, packaging. Tomatoes bought in winter will have been grown in heated greenhouses, so the energy used in their production soars.
Therefore, while Exeter City Council has begun rolling out food waste collections across the city, our messaging will always be the same: that it’s better not to waste food at all.
This isn’t about eating more than we want; it’s about buying only what we know we’ll eat. This means knowing what we have in the fridge already, how best to store food and how we can cook it so that we eat as much of it as possible.
Planning meals, using up leftovers, freezing what we can when we need to and getting a little creative in the kitchen – by doing these things we can help bring about real, positive change.
We can also save ourselves a packet: throwing away food these days hits our wallets harder than ever.
I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed – by the pace at which we’re expected to live, and by all the disaster-focussed information about the damage we’re doing to our world – so surely it’s good to know that we can make small adjustments to meaningfully help ourselves and our planet.
By reducing our food waste we will each be making a positive contribution to the world – and to everyone’s future.