Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Wednesday Wonderings - Why we waste food

Posted by Rosie

This quiz from The Guardian popped up on my Facebook page recently on the subject of food waste and the figures are staggeringly frightening.  Here are just a few:

  • Each year the UK wastes 7 million tonnes of food, enough to fill 9 Wembly stadiums   
  • The equivalent of 86 million chickens are thrown away each year in the UK
  • 24 million slices of bread are chucked DAILY in the UK
  • and 1.4 million bananas every day
  • Food waste costs the average family £60 per  month or over £700 per year.

That is a lot of waste and a lot of money.

Image from University of Northern Iowa

There are many campaigns out there to try and get people to reduce the waste but I do think that if waste is to be reduced on a dramatic scale then we need to identify why people throw away so much food, much of which is still in a perfectly edible state.

Reasons food is wasted

Changes in shopping habits

Not may years ago people shopped every day for fresh meat, fish and fruit/vegetables.  This was a necessity with little or no refrigeration available but it did mean less waste.  Now people shop on a weekly, fortnightly and even monthly basis, expecting their fresh food to last and maybe not being too sure how much they will need for the duration so overbuy just to be on the safe side.  Overbuying leads to waste.

Food packaging

Much of our fresh food now comes packaged so you'll need to buy the amount the supermarket thinks you want rather than what you actually need.  Single people are forced to buy more than they need and a family of 5 may well have to buy 2 packets of chops, for example, if the chops are only sold in packs of 4 or 2.  

Special offers

How often are you tempted to buy a special offer or extras because they are on a Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) promotion?  It's all very well if you can eat all you buy but in reality a certain amount of these "free" extras end up in the bin, especially fresh produce.

Image from The Telegraph

Lost cooking skills

Too many people now have never been taught to cook and have no idea how to cook left-overs.  Some are quite happy to follow a recipe but with no recipe to hand that tells you what to do with your left-overs this food heads to the bin.

Poor portion control

It is not always easy to gauge exactly how much to cook.  Appetites can vary or some-one can ring at the last minute to say they won't be home to eat and excess food wings it way to the bin.

Food is cheap

You might not think so as the till racks up your weekly shop but actually a lot of food is cheaper now than it has ever been and so it can be perceived less of a issue if some of it ends up in the bin.  After all, a few slices of bread only represent a few pence/cents but add them up over the year and you soon reach big figures. 

Confusing dates on packaging

Sell by / display until / best before / use by / eat before.  What exactly do they all mean?  People now use these dates as the deciding factor as to whether they should eat something or bin it when in fact the dates do not all mean the same thing and do not all mean the food is no longer edible:
  • Sell by / Display Until - the date the shop must sell it by ... it will be edible beyond this date
  • Best Before - for the product to be at it's very best eat it before this date. After the date it will still be perfectly safe to eat for several days but may just lose a touch in quality
  • Use by / eat before - this is the date that manufacturers advise easting the product before.  However they always give a small amount of leeway especially if the product has been very well stored.  Products don't just go off at midnight on the use by date but too many people are wary of eating anything after this date, even if it looks fine and off to the bin it goes.

Confusing labelling - Image from Daily Mail

Perfect food

We have reached a stage where only perfect looking food is perceived as good enough to eat.  A large apple may have a small blemish so in the bin it goes, rather than simply cutting off the bad bit.  A slightly shrivelled end of a carrot renders it as inedible in the eyes of too many people.

Andrea, in the comments section, raised a couple of points that I have added here:

Too far distanced from food production

Too many people have no idea what actually goes into food production.  If they raised their own animals or grew their own vegetables and fruit they might appreciate the hard work and not be happy to just lob something in the bin.

There is always more food

Our shops rarely run short of food.  As well as big supermarkets in every town there are town centre stores and corner shops as well as an ever increasing number of take-aways.  With food so easily accissible it is not a problem if food at home is thrown away as more can so easily be bought.

Do you throw away food?  If so, maybe you can identify why from the list above.  Understanding why is the first step to solving the problem of food waste and you could be well on your way to saving enough money for a holiday every year.  

And if you throw away bananas do have a look at this blog post - 3 brilliant banana recipes.

U, me and the kids

The List

The Little Life of Ickle Pickle


  1. One of my soapbox subjects Rosie!

    I think the huge amount of food waste that we produce is simply because it is socially acceptable to do so. Food means so little to the majority of people, as they are far removed from the production process. If everyone played a part in producing the food that appeared on their plates, and realised what a huge amount of work goes into creating it, I'm absolutely sure they would respect it more.

    We have volunteers here who will chop off half of a vegetable and throw it away (well, it goes to the animals here, but the notion is the same) because their mentality is that there is always more. Well there isn't! When we've used all the cabbages, or peas, or whatever, that's it until they grow again next year.

    And don't even get me started on the ridiculous and waste inherent in our meat choices ...!

    1. You and me together! Thank you for your extra points which I have taken the liberty of adding to the post.

  2. Totally agree with all of this - I am especially passionate about the lost cooking skills, using leftovers, cooking from scratch. Also the use by/sell by dates. These were only introduced in the early 90's. How on earth did we manage before then? We all obviously killed ourselves by eating gone off food. My 23 year old son was a prime example the other day. Unfortunately, much to my distaste he actually likes things like tinned ravioli (yuck) but I haven't bought any for him for a long time. He was complaining the tins in the cupboard were out of date - I tried to explain that tins didn't used to come with dates & did he really think that one day they would be fine & the next they've suddenly gone off? But it was like talking to the wall.

    1. How sad that your son has been brainwashed into believing that food past a given date immediately goes off - we need to lose the dates of food and get back to basics: teach people how to cook, use left-overs and recognise when food is still good to eat.

  3. This week I have just halved the shopping budget due to the huge amount of food wastage. I've only bought the basics and will pick up anything we run out of as I go but I have so many mixes and tins unused in the back of the cupboard because I've been grabbing the easy option instead of actually 'making' something. x

    1. It is often easier to open something new than cook from left-overs or what is kn the cupboard but it becomes easier the more you do it.

  4. Great post, I find it shocking how much food we waste. As a family we need to shop and plan better. Thanks for linking up to #TheList x

  5. I find that yogurts last at least a month after their use by date and a simple sniff test will tell if they're still OK. I wonder what the figures are for France where for one thing packaging isn't so confusing, there's just a use by date and more people know how to cook. I also think more people shop at markets/butchers where there's no use by date, just common sense. I'd like to think there's slightly less waste, though it may be wishful thinking. This is one of my pet hates too. I find it incredible that people don't use left-overs. They're one of my favourite things...such a quick and easy supper when all you have to do is heat something up. And so on and so on. I know I'm preaching to the converted. And did you know that cold pasta is better for you than freshly cooked pasta? And it's even better for you reheated! So by eating leftovers you're sometimes even eating healthier too!

    1. I knew about yoghurts and rarely take much notice of sell-by dates, using my common sense instead ... but the fact that cold and reheated pasta is better for you is a new one on me.

  6. Great post! I hate wasting food - I do try to write a weekly meal plan and just buy what we need but not always easy :)

    1. I am no good at weekly planning as I never really know what veg will be ready for picking ... but I do try to plan a couple of days ahead.

  7. Thanks for this amazing amount of information, it's shocking and sad that we do this.

  8. Great post, I will defiantly be looking at ways I can change food wastage in our house, love the banana idea! Thanks for linking up to #RetroBlogPosts this week.

    1. Thank you - we will be having caramelised bananas for dinner this evening :)

  9. We have a few days of eating up everything before we buy new again. I think a lot is down to lost cooking skills. It would be great if we could all waste less.

    1. That's a good plan and some of my favourite recipes are ones made from left-overs ... but if people are not taught to cook they will not use left-overs to create a new meal.

  10. This is one of my ranty things as well. Now we help with a food bank, throwing out food because we never got round to eating it makes me so ashamed. Excellent #myfavouritepost

    1. But at least you are aware you do it and that puts you in a better position to do something about it - too many people just chuck food away without a second thought and see absolutely nothing wrong with what they are doing.


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