WRAP has called for “urgent action” to tackle household food waste after publishing updated figures that show food waste volumes rose between 2018 and 2021 despite declining since 2007.
The food waste figures published by climate action NGO (non-governmental organisation) WRAP show that household food waste is the largest source of food waste in the UK’s 10.7 million tonnes (Mt) total.
WRAP’s figures focus on food waste collected by local authorities. This covers 80% of the total collected but excludes disposal routes as WRAP says measuring this stream is “more problematic”.
The figures show UK homes disposed of 76kg of food waste per person in 2021 – 9kg per person heavier than in 2018 and similar to levels between 2010 and 2017, but 15.5kg lower than in 2007. However, household food waste remains 17% lower than in 2007.
WRAP says two factors “contributed significantly” to the increase in household food waste between 2018 and 2021. Firstly, more food was consumed in the home in this period compared to pre-pandemic years, and, secondly, food prices relative to average incomes were also “much lower” at the time.
This increase is a stark indication that there must be significant action, at scale, to tackle this problem.
According to WRAP’s report, potatoes, cooked leftovers (homemade/pre-prepared meals), and bread top the UK’s wasted food table. While the figures show UK households throw away 300,000t of meat and fish a year, which costs £3.2 billion.
Other key figures from WRAP’s report are that households threw away 6.4Mt of food and drink in 2021 despite 4.7Mt still being consumable. According to WRAP, this led to 18Mt of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food and drink waste from UK homes – 3% of the UK’s total carbon footprint.
Meat and fish contributed the most (26%) despite making up just 6% of the total weight. Meals, both homemade and readymade, contributed 18% of emissions while fresh vegetables and salad, the number one category by weight, contributed 16% of emissions, and 28% of total food waste.
The total cost of household food waste was £17 billion in 2021 – £3 billion of which was food past its use-by date. WRAP says, on average, this equates to £250 per person and approximately £1,000 for a household of four. Local authorities spent around £510M disposing of or treating food waste.
Catherine David, Director of Behaviour Change and Business Programmes at WRAP, commented: “Whilst food waste in our homes is lower than in 2007, this increase is a stark indication that there must be significant action, at scale, to tackle this problem.
“We need retailers, brands, manufacturers, hospitality businesses, local authorities and national governments to work together and focus on helping customers buy what they need. We need to reshape the food system and treat food like the precious resource it is. Slowing down is not an option given the damage caused by food waste and its direct contribution to climate change.”
Courtauld voluntary agreement
Alongside household food waste statistics, WRAP also published the progress made by businesses and signatories to the Courtauld 2030 voluntary agreement.
The figures show that between 2018 and 2021 food waste per capita fell by 8.5% in retail. While food waste per capita fell by 9.2% in food manufacturing and 34% lower in 2021 compared to 2007. At the current rate of reduction, manufacturing food waste will halve by 2030, WRAP says.
However, WRAP found that 800,000 tonnes of the 1.08Mt of food waste thrown away per year in hospitality could have been eaten. WRAP says poor data from this sector makes it problematic to measure changes over time.