The financial and environmental impact of food waste

Food waste

Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, discusses the results of a recent pan-European report into consumer food waste habits and explains the importance of separate kerbside collections in diverting valuable resources away from landfill.

According to a recent report by the statistical office Eurostat, the average European householder is said to be responsible for generating c.70kg of food waste every year. This means that a four-person family will throw away more than 280kg (the equivalent weight of a grand piano) every 12 months and the UK population will collectively bin almost seven million tonnes.

While WRAP suggests that this figure has reduced by 15% since 2007, the fact remains that households are the cause of more than 70% of all food waste generated in the UK. Coming at a cost of more than £13 billion, this is not only important from a financial perspective but also environmentally.

Insight from The Guardian suggests that every kg of wheat alone requires up to 4,000 litres of water to produce. By wasting food, these valuable resources are simply lost.

If we could minimise unnecessary household waste, it would be possible to prevent nearly 7 million tonnes of food waste from reaching landfill.

Additionally, with 40% of food waste left to rot in landfill – releasing greenhouse gases considered to be 21 times more damaging than CO2 – the negative implications begin to become clear.

The fact of the matter is simple. If we could minimise unnecessary household waste, it would be possible to prevent nearly seven million tonnes of food waste from ending up in landfill. What’s more, we could reduce our national carbon footprint, prevent the release of dangerous gases and save a huge amount of money.

But simply admitting our failings isn’t enough – we need to take firm action, change our behaviours and tackle the issue head-on. We know the causes; we buy too much, don’t plan meals and rely too heavily on sell-by dates. Instead, we should be looking towards the food waste hierarchy and prioritising ways to effectively prevent waste.

How do we reduce food waste?

Planning meals rather than succumbing to impulse buys helps to ensure we only buy what we need for the week ahead. Checking use-by dates regularly to make sure that we consume foods before they go off is key – we should all be mindful of these dates when planning your daily meals. 

It’s also worth considering ways to better utilise leftovers, by adding in ingredients such as spices, pasta, rice, grains and tinned tomatoes or veg. From BBC Good Food to Love Food, Hate Waste, there are lots of tips on good habits that will help minimise waste as well as recipe inspiration for leftovers.

But while reducing waste is a cause we must all play our part in, there will always be a fraction of food that can’t be eaten. Whether gristle, bones or shells, “unavoidable” food waste remains part of the mountain that can’t be eliminated.

At ReFood, we believe that food waste recycling is a simple and sustainable solution to manage this unavoidable fraction. Harnessing anaerobic digestion (AD), a process that sees food broken down in the absence of oxygen to create renewable energy and sustainable biofertiliser, food waste recycling is becoming more and more popular as a solution to tackle escalating landfill figures. 

We operate three state-of-the-art AD facilities in the UK, turning more than 400,000 tonnes of food waste into renewable energy and sustainable biofertiliser every year. Working with organisations operating across the food supply chain, we play a key role in diverting waste away from landfill.

When it comes to food, preventing waste through careful planning of meals and making more of leftovers is the priority.

Unfortunately, while food waste recycling makes both sustainable and financial sense, only a handful of local authorities in the UK offer it as a service, with most households simply advised to comingle food with their black bag waste. Legislation has been passed to see separate collections become mandatory in the coming years but, with numerous caveats, it’s unlikely that a uniform national service will be rolled out anytime soon. 

When it comes to food, preventing waste through careful planning of meals and making more of leftovers is the priority. In some cases, there is also the opportunity to redistribute surplus food to food banks for example.

Surplus food that isn’t suitable for human consumption can also be repurposed for animal feed. When all these options have been exhausted then recycling food waste to turn it into energy, for use in composting or to spread on agricultural land are the best ways to avoid sending it to landfill.

The good news is that, with the increasing diversification of energy sources now becoming more urgent as we look increasingly to renewables for our energy needs, there’s sufficient anaerobic digestion capacity available to recycle all of the UK’s food waste and turn it into energy.

To find out more about the food waste hierarchy, how to minimise food waste and how we turn unavoidable food waste into energy, visit

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