UK households unaware of the impact their food waste has on the planet

UK adults estimate that almost a third of what they buy ends up in the bin despite three in four making attempts to get more use out of the products that end up in their fridges and cupboards.

The top three food items wasted are salad leaves, bread and milk. Other foodstuffs commonly ending up in the bin are bananas, cucumber, strawberries and potatoes (top 20 list below).

The study of 2,000 adults commissioned by Waitrose found one in seven (14 per cent) forget to check use-by dates, while nearly one in 10 are guilty of buying more than they need in the first place.

And despite 67 per cent taking care to plan their food shop for the week ahead in a bid to eliminate leftovers – more than a fifth forget about items they’ve bought until it’s too late.

Why this is happening and how it is impacting the planet:

Not planning a supermarket shop, overestimating portion sizes and buying food for recipes they don’t end up cooking are among the reasons for households producing so much food waste.

But food waste is having a bigger impact than we realise, as Marija Rompani, director of ethics and sustainability at the John Lewis Partnership explains.

“When we think of the triggers of global warming, we think about fumes pumping out from power stations, car exhausts or planes. But in fact, food waste creates six times more greenhouse gases than aviation.

Nobody buys food with the intention of throwing it in the bin but with UK homes discarding 4.5 million tonnes of it every year, we clearly need to take more action.

“When we throw food away, we waste the precious resources it’s taken to grow, package and transport it – and as it rots in landfill, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. So the simple action of throwing food in the bin has more of a negative impact on our planet than people often realise.”

The research found more than a third haven’t considered the impact throwing away food has on the environment, with the average adult binning gone off foodstuffs three days of the week.

Yet, three-quarters claimed they were raised in a home where wastage was a big no-no.

More than one in 10 confessed to ‘not thinking twice’ about throwing away food, with a further 20 per cent of respondents not feeling as guilty about binning fruit and veggies as they do meat.

And 71 per cent think nothing of throwing away their fruit and vegetable peelings because they see no other use for them.

As a result, 81 per cent discard their fruit and vegetable peelings, with 16 per cent not seeing any nutritional benefit to these kinds of leftovers.

Rompani added: “Nobody buys food with the intention of throwing it in the bin but with UK homes discarding 4.5 million tonnes of it every year, we clearly need to take more action.”

“This is why, through our Partners Against Waste platform, we have pledged to halve food waste in our supply chain by 2030. We also want to make it easier for our customers by selling oddly shaped vegetables in our A Little Less Than Perfect range as well as forgotten cuts of meat. We also continue to work closely with FareShare to donate surplus food to vulnerable families across the UK.”

Top 20 most commonly thrown away food items because they have gone off according to UK adults:

  1. Salad leaves
  2. Bread
  3. Milk
  4. Bananas
  5. Cucumber
  6. Strawberries
  7. Potatoes
  8. Eggs
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Carrots
  11. Cheese
  12. Yoghurt
  13. Mushrooms
  14. Cream
  15. Apples
  16. Fresh meat
  17. Oranges
  18. Onions
  19. Fresh fish
  20. Blueberries

Top tips from Waitrose to eliminate food waste:

The research revealed a number of savvy ways people living in the UK are reducing food waste, such as feeding a pet with leftovers, using stale bread to make breadcrumbs for other meals and treating the garden soil to a feast of old fruit and vegetable skins.

Here are some further ways that you can reduce food waste at home:

  1. Use your freezer as a store cupboard

Veg is frozen at the peak of freshness and having things like cauliflower, butternut squash, green beans, sweetcorn, spinach, peas and broad beans to hand will open up a world of mealtime possibilities.

  1. Think before you bin

If you’re about to throw something away, think first if it can be put to another use. Will it go in stock? Can it be frozen? Can it be turned into the next day’s packed lunch?

  1. Make a list

Write down what you need before you go shopping and stick to it. This stops you buying the things which are often the items that end up in the bin.

  1. Plan your menu

Plan your menu for the week (or for the next few days). Don’t consider meals in isolation – think of how one meal will feed into the next and how you can employ your store cupboard and your freezer to reinvigorate leftovers.

  1. Stock cupboards

Keep a cupboard full of useful spices, herbs, cans and carbs which can help turn today’s leftovers into tomorrow’s lunch.

  1. Use your veg peelings

Making your own stock can use up loads of leftovers, from tired and wilted veg to carrot peelings and chicken carcasses and will make a huge difference to the flavour of the food you cook.

  1. Get the size right

Don’t overcompensate on portion size. It’s better to put on slightly less pasta or rice than you think you’ll need. Often, that extra bit you think you should add to the pot – just in case – is the bit that ends up in the bin.

  1. Build in wiggle room

Plan at least one meal a week using tinned or frozen items, so if your plans change and you’re not going to be at home for dinner one evening, you won’t be wasting any fresh ingredients.

  1. Store your food so it lasts

When you get your shopping home, make sure you store it appropriately. Even veg such as carrots keep longer in the fridge. Not using those chicken breasts for three days? Then pop them in the freezer.

  1. Know your dates

You can safely ignore the ‘best-before’, ‘display-by’ and ‘sell-by’ dates on packaging. ‘Use-by’ is the only one you need.

Five foodstuffs (and their peelings) with surprising nutritional health benefits

  • Bananas – are an important source of potassium, manganese and B6. And an equal amount can be found in the skin, which is edible, as well as the flesh.
    • Potassium is needed for optimal functioning of the body’s cells, tissues and organs.
    • Manganese contributes to many bodily functions, including metabolism of amino acids, cholesterol, glucose, and carbohydrates. It also plays a role in bone formation, blood clotting, and reducing inflammation.
    • B6 helps in the production of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow brain and nerve cells to communicate with one another, ensuring that metabolic processes such as fat and protein metabolism run smoothly, and is important for immune system function in older individuals.
  • Potatoes (new and salad, flesh & skin, boiled) – all very rich sources of potassium and do not require peeling as the skin is rich in it too!
  • Cucumber (raw, flesh & skin) – a rich source of vitamin K, which is integral to bone health.
  • Kiwi (raw, flesh & skin) – is rich in vitamin C, which has several important functions. These include helping to protect cells and keeping them healthy, maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage and helping with wound healing. Conversely, a lack of vitamin C can lead to scurvy!
  • Carrots (cooked or raw) – including the outer layers are rich in vitamin A, an essential vitamin for growth and development, cell recognition, vision, immune function and reproduction.
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