New research reveals that in the first week of the summer break £12 million worth of food will be thrown in the bin by UK families as they head off on holiday. More than half of people surveyed admitted to throwing away perfectly edible food before they went on holiday. This snapshot starkly illustrates that food waste is still a real challenge in the UK.
The vast majority of people are concerned about throwing away food knowing it is a waste of money and environmentally damaging. But this concern is overwhelmed by the pressures of day-to-day living particularly when busy families rush to get their holiday plans in order. What can be done? There appear to be five significant barriers to be overcome.
A lack of clear and consistent messages
There is a cacophony of voices talking about food waste but information is still not reaching households in a way that is timely and helpful. The summer food waste research demonstrates the need for travel companies, insurance providers and mobile phone operators to come together to remind their customers of the simple steps they can take to save money and help the environment as part of their pre-holiday arrangements.
Lack of knowledge
The research demonstrates that part of the problem is a lack of knowledge with 45% of people saying they threw away food because it couldn't be frozen. The most likely types of food to be thrown are milk, salad, fruit, yogurt and bread much of which could be frozen rather than binned. The research revealed that 58% of people surveyed didn't realise you can freeze milk, 62% ham and 63% hard cheese.
Steps need to be take at all levels from our schools through to adult education programmes to bring back basic cooking and storage skills helping people get the most value from the food they buy.
A need to build stronger communities
Intriguingly the research discovered that a massive 81% of people would be happy to receive food from their neighbour but only 13% of people currently do this and it hadn't occurred to 26% of respondents. Clearly encouraging people to be a good neighbour would help reduce food waste and help foster better local community spirit.
A lack of consistent recycling infrastructure
Everything needs to be done to ensure that food is eaten but there will inevitably be some food waste that has to be disposed of - such as tea bags. Where governments have taken a lead in creating consistent recycling facilities such as in Wales recycling rates are increasing. In countries where this leadership is lacking such as England recycling rates are stagnating and in some places dropping.
Confusion on labelling
There is consumer confusion on food labelling. What do 'Best Before' and 'Use By' dates really mean? There are a range of new technologies being developed which use a more sophisticated approach to testing whether food is safe to eat. Hopefully these will be brought to market in the near future and safety regulations will be sufficiently flexible for them to be introduced.
In an attempt to overcome these barriers the environmental charity Hubbub consulted consultation with 240 businesses from across the food industry and undertook public polling. The resulting Joint Ambition was launched at the end of July www.hubbub.org.uk and hopefully will create added momentum and a new coalition of organisations working together to cut food waste in the UK.