Food Waste Denial Among Brits Means 60% Of Us Have No Idea How Much We Throw Away

It could fill 8,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

28/08/2016 17:11

The majority of Brits are in denial about the amount of food they waste, according to new figures which show almost 60% of people think they waste barely any - or even none at all.

A report from Wrap, seen exclusively by The Huffington Post UK, shows 12% of people think they waste no food at all, and 47% claim to throw away “hardly any”.

In fact, we waste one fifth of all the food we buy, when most of it – the equivalent of six meals a week - could have been eaten

Jan Herodes via Getty Images
We throw away 7 million tonnes of food from our homes every year.

The survey, taken in April 2016, shows that while 45% of people agree that throwing away less food is important to the environment, they have no concept of how much they themselves contribute to the problem.

Around a quarter (23%) of people felt they waste “a small amount”, while just 2% thought they waste “quite a lot”.

Wrap UK's survey suggests Brits have an unrealistic idea about how much food they waste.

Wrap said its research speaking to 5,414 people showed “a lot of people feel they throw away less food from their homes than our research indicates,” said Helen White from Wrap.

“Three out of five people say that they waste no or hardly any food, but the average home throws away the equivalent of six meals each week, which could have been eaten. People simply aren’t aware they’re wasting food.”

The survey also showed Brits drastically underestimate how much money they could save by reducing their personal food waste. 

Up to 60% of what is thrown in the bin was perfectly edible, and Wrap’s research shows the average household could save £39 a month by not wasting food, rising to £60 a month for households with children.

But when people were asked how much money they thought the average household could save, they estimated the figure to be a much lower £27.07 per month.

Respondents also estimated that in their own homes they could only save £15.83 per month, significantly lower than their estimate for the average household. “This demonstrates that people underestimate the amount of money they could save, and lots of us think that food waste is something that other people do. Helping people to realise how much they waste might help them to see that wasting less will actually save them money,” White told HuffPost UK.

Wrap carries out surveys twice a year and has revealed its April 2016 figures exclusively to HuffPost UK. The data suggests that despite the growing interest in food waste, the general public have not become more aware that they themselves can help to reduce it.

“When we are doing the food shop or making dinner, we’re mainly thinking about food that’s delicious and enjoyable to eat, and that’s exactly as it should be. If people realised the effort that went into producing food and that 15% of it ends up in the bin, we might be inclined to do more,” said White.

“It’s easy to not notice a little bit of food here and there being wasted, but it all adds up and we know people want to do the right thing. What they might not feel is that their small actions count: they do.”

The survey also found that the issues people were most concerned about were the price of food as well as sugar, fat and salt content. About 44% said that they were concerned with food waste, ranking it lower than those concerns.

These 15 facts from Wrap reveal what you need to know about the problem - and why it’s not something to ignore:

  • 1 We're losing money
    Zoonar RF via Getty Images
    Wasting edible food costs the average household £470 a year, rising to £700 a year for households with children.
  • 2 It's not rocket science
    fuzzbones0 via Getty Images
    Brits waste seven million tonnes of food a year, and up to 60% of that could have been eaten. We throw away good food for two main reasons: we either cook or prepare too much, or don't use it in time.
  • 3 But it's a LOT of food
    Veronica Garbutt via Getty Images
    The amount of that which we could have eaten or drunk is 4.2 million tonnes - enough to fill 8,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • 4 Really, a lot
    Or, if you'd like to imagine it another way, it would fill 210 Royal Albert Halls or five Wembley Stadiums.
  • 5 We start but we don't finish
    Thomas J Peterson via Getty Images
    Of that, the majority (2 million tonnes) is food that is either unopened, or started but not finished - for example half a loaf of bread, or an unused slide of bacon.
  • 6 Food waste is worse in our homes
    Ridofranz via Getty Images
    While there's been lots of attention supermarkets, most food waste in the UK - 70% after food leaves farms - comes from our homes.

    In comparison, supermarkets generate about 2%, while food manufacturing is responsible for 17%. The hospitality and food service industry, such as restaurants, accounts for 9%.
  • 7 Even worse than another big problem
    ShotShare via Getty Images
    Every year, people in the UK throw away more food from our homes than packaging.
  • 8 The common culprits
    SSPL via Getty Images
    The most-wasted types of food and drink that could have been used are bread, potato, milk, fizzy drinks, fruit juice and smoothies, poultry, pork, ham and bacon, cakes and pastries. 
  • 9 Wasting good wine
    Nicolas Wayne via Getty Images
    We also throw away £270 million worth of wine form our homes each year, as well as £200 million worth of soft drinks, and £150 million worth of fruit juice and smoothies.
  • 10 Nothing wrong with wonky
    SageElyse via Getty Images
    One of the biggest problems is prejudice over "wonky" fruit and veg - nearly a third of us (30%) told Sainsbury's we would throw a banana away if it has even a small bruise, wasting perfectly edible fruit. 
  • 11 Gaseous problem
    Louise Murray / robertharding via Getty Images
    Most wasted food that reaches landfill sits through our rubbish system emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climae Change.
  • 12 But it's not all bad news
    Emma Farrer via Getty Images
    Between 2007 and 2012, the UK's avoidable food waste has reduced by 21%, over one million tonnes. That amount of food would fill 23 million wheelie bins.
  • 13 More money for councils
    gkrphoto via Getty Images
    This reduction in residual waste saved councils around £85 million from sending less food to landfill in 2012 alone.
  • 14 And less water wasted
    Hemera Technologies via Getty Images
    Not to mention a billion litres of water that would have been used to grow and produce the food.
  • 15 Saving the planet
    TomasSereda via Getty Images
    Stopping food waste also has a huge benefit for the planet - removing all wasted food would save 4.4 million tonnes of CO2 a year - the equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road. 

Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe recently told HuffPost UK that food waste was a major concern for its customers and it is trying to “change people’s behaviour” to help them save money.

Sainsbury’s is investing £10 million to reduce the nation’s food waste over the next five years, including in a year-long experiment in the Derbyshire town of Swadlincote.

“Food waste has risen in prominence over a number of years, and customers are more and more concerned about first of all the kinds of waste that they make, the kind of food that they throw away, but also how they recycle things like packaging,” Coupe said.

“The average family in the UK wastes around £700 worth of food a year, so it clearly is a significant opportunity to improve things and to help customers save that money.”

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