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Food waste: The world’s biggest environmental challenge?

Food waste: The world’s biggest environmental challenge?

old food waste

Have you ever been told that “your eyes are bigger than your belly”? It usually comes after you’ve piled up your plate at a Toby Carvery only to give up 3 roasties from the clean plate ‘finish line’. We often associate wasting food with not clearing our plates but tackling food waste is far more than reducing our gluttonous ways. If food waste was a country, it would be the third-highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the globe. So, while our diets and the items we choose to bring into our homes have a significant impact on the environment – we must also consider our waste levels in order to make a difference. 



Tackling food waste: How much is there? 

In the UK, approximately 6.7 million tonnes of food waste are produced every year; it costs every household anywhere between £200-£400. The numbers are so large it’s almost impossible to comprehend. Just know that food waste alone contributes to 8% of global greenhouse emissions and 30% of global agricultural land is dedicated to producing food waste. Waste. Not food. Waste. Imagine making three meals a day, only to bin one of them without even a taste. There is no logic to it, and yet as a society, we continue to make these mistakes year on year. 

What is the environmental impact of food waste? 

There’s a colossal amount of food waste. That’s obvious to see. But what are the implications of that waste? “Surely a lot of it is organic matter, doesn’t it just, rot?” Yes, it does rot, but that’s exactly why it is harmful. As we’ve learned from our recent blogs, humans and animals have higher carbon footprints because they are releasing all sorts of gases into the atmosphere around the clock. This is exactly what happens when food rots, it releases gases far more harmful than CO2. 

Sometimes these emissions are captured and reused to create energy for our homes. The UK has a lot of energy from waste (EfW)  and food waste recycling facilities, but wasting food is the just end of the chain. Transforming it into energy doesn’t protect the entire process from waste. To grow and cultivate our food, we use water, oil, land, and plenty of other finite resources. Every item wasted is a waste of resources. By throwing out 1kg of beef it is estimated that you are wasting 50,000 litres of water.  

Tackling food waste not only reduces our emissions released into the atmosphere, but also minimises our strain on resources. Food waste implications on the environment occur far further up the chain than just the end. 

How does food waste occur? 

When we’re talking about food waste, it’s natural to think of the final process – our kitchen bins. But, as we’ve just discussed, it’s about far more than the final destination. Food waste implications occur far before we chuck our leftovers in the bin. Not only that, but they also come in many forms. 

It’s not too much of a jump to realise that nations with more food waste tend to be well developed and wealthy. However, that doesn’t mean to say that low-income areas have little to no food waste. Downstream food waste is what most of us will imagine. Leftovers thrown away. Food that we allowed to go out of date. Items that were no longer suitable for sale at the supermarket. This is the sort of food waste we have in the UK. 

However, upstream food waste is also an issue. This comes from poor cultivation processes, inefficient storage systems, and a lack of distribution resources. All occurring in countries without sufficient infrastructure – countries with less wealth. 

Just as much as we in the UK have an issue with gluttony and piling up our plates, less developed countries struggle to eat the food they grow. Tackling food waste is truly a global issue that impacts all countries, just in different ways. 

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food scrap in a caddy tipped onto floor

Tackling food waste: How can I help? 

If you’re reading this blog, it’s more than likely your contribution to food waste comes from downstream processes. Although plenty of us have adapted our diets to ensure we reduce our impact, we now need to minimise our food waste. Here’s how: 

  • Thoroughly plan your weekly food shop so that you have no food left over at the end of the week – or upcycle any waste you do create 
  • Freeze any leftovers and eat them at a later date 
  • Be sure to safely store your food so that you preserve it for as long as possible 
  • Purchase wonky veg in a bid to help reduce farm waste 


While we work hard to reduce our diet’s impact on the environment, we must not forget that waste is playing a big part in our carbon footprints. As you’ll have noticed this month, preparation plays a key part in making a difference. Whether that’s planning out what foods we are going to purchase, how much of them we’re going to consume or how we store them. Like they say “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. Let’s see how much sustainable change we can create with a little more preparation.

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    • Hi Tom, our codes are only on the latest blog on the site. They last for one week. The latest blog at the minute is ‘5 quick tips for using less water while cooking’ – we hope that helps! 🙂

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