What impact will COVID19 have on domestic food waste?

Hubbub’s Trewin Restorick outlines the findings of its recent public poll, which looks at the impact of the COVID-19 crisis the UK’s eating habits.

An immediate impact of the COVID-19 crisis has been on the UK’s eating habits. The closing of restaurants, the increased time spent at home and the difficulty in getting hold of some ingredients has changed many things previously taken for granted.

The initial response was panic buying. This has subsided and new eating patterns are emerging. Hubbub was keen to understand how things have changed and what might be the implications for our well-being and the wider environment.

We undertook public polling with 2,000 people across the UK asking how COVID19 has changed their eating habits. The results reveal a profound impact.

A divided nation

We discovered a deeply polarised experience of food across the country. 43% of people said that they are worried about the extra cost of providing food for their household. This rises to 59% of those aged 35-44 and 54% of those aged 25-34.

People are also making better use of their freezer, with 35% using it more and 29% freezing a wider variety of foods.

Compare this with some of the positives we heard from our polling – that 44% of people are enjoying cooking more since the restrictions began and 47% of people are enjoying spending more time eating with their family or housemates.

Over a third of people see the lockdown as an opportunity to improve their cooking skills, rising to almost half amongst 16-24 year olds.

The impact on food waste

Over half of people are valuing food more with 48% saying they are throwing away less food.  Of those wasting less, people say they are planning meals more carefully (51%) and are getting better at using leftovers (41%).

People are also making better use of their freezer, with 35% using it more and 29% freezing a wider variety of foods. Portion control is also a factor, with 27% now giving more accurate portion sizes and just over 1 in 4 (26%) are leaving less on the plate.

Shopping patterns

Shopping habits have shifted, a quarter said they are buying better quality food as they are not going out or spending money on other things.

While more than a third of people are supporting smaller/local businesses more than ever before, 43% say they are buying fewer takeaways as they are worried about contamination.

A further 42% say they are not buying takeaways because money is tight.

29% said they were using their local corner shop/convenience store for the first time.

Will changes stick?

There are signs that this will this continue once the restrictions are over. The majority (89%) of those who’ve made changes say they will continue to use at least one of the new shopping alternatives to supermarkets once the restrictions have ended.

Many will continue to use local shops (41% will carry on using their local corner shop, 20% the local butcher, 13% the local farm shop and 15% the local greengrocer).

And many will continue with home deliveries – 11% will continue with their fruit/veg box, 9% with milk delivery.

What are the implications of these findings?

Whether food is a worry or a pleasure at the moment, we can safely say that most people are thinking about it more than usual. We’ve grown to rely on convenience and availability of an incredible range of foods in the UK.

Faced with restrictions on what’s available – often the first of their lifetime – many people are now keen to know how to cook, store and make the most of their food.

There is an opportunity to ensure that positive changes of habits stick by giving people the support, skills and knowledge they need during this transition period.

Hubbub is already working with Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils to provide their residents with this guidance through a Food Savvy campaign.

It is hoped that this will see a long-term reduction in food waste helping the councils to hit environmental targets and reduce costs.

Redistributing food that would have been wasted and getting it to the most vulnerable and isolated members of society has also become increasingly important.

We have also noted how difficult it is to get edible food that would be wasted to those who most need it.

Hubbub is seeing a huge increase of interest in our Community Fridge Network which enables perishable food to be redistributed to local households.  There are now just under 100 Community Fridges across the UK.

We have also noted how difficult it is to get edible food that would be wasted to those who most need it.

In Milton Keynes we are about to launch a new low carbon collection and delivery service called Food Connect taking surplus food directly to either Community Fridges or vulnerable households.  If this proves to be successful, we will expand nationally.

What is clear is that COVID19 has created a massive shock to the way households value food and is likely to lead to some new behaviours some of which could cut food waste.

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