How does food waste affect climate change?

If you’re sitting there thinking there are bigger issues surrounding climate change than the scraps you throw in your food waste bin, it might be time to think again. Although, you wouldn’t be alone. According to WRAP, 32% of people in the UK recognise a link between climate change and food waste. However, 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste. From the scraps on your plate to the unloved food that doesn’t make it to the supermarket. It’s time to peel the onion and discover the many layers of food waste and climate change.

Why is food waste an issue for climate change? 

We’re so happy to be discussing this as research shows that very few of us here in the UK are aware of this link. How food naturally breaks down is just one of the biggest issues relating to food waste and climate change. The same way living animals decompose and let off greenhouse gases such as methane, plants do the same. Therefore, all food needs to be eaten, or at least, recycled in a food waste bin. 

Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, far more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. So, every time you pop your food scraps into a rubbish bin, consider that depending on your council, it could end up in landfill harming the environment. Even if it is organic, locally grown, eco-friendly or vegan – it all releases harmful gas. 

The impact of food waste on the climate 

Food waste creates a lot of greenhouse gases, as we’ve previously discussed. But there is more food waste that contributes to this than just the items that leave our homes in a caddy.  

30% of agricultural land across the world creates just food waste. Every single item grown on those pieces of land will inevitably end up rotting away. That’s how much food is being thrown out globally. Imagine all the trees that could flourish and help improve the atmosphere! Not only that, but all the water used to care for those crops, also goes to waste. The total volume amounts to roughly three times the size of Lake Geneva. 

Imagine what positive impact all that land and water could have rather than producing food that goes to waste. And that’s before you consider the methane released into the atmosphere, carbon emission used to transport it and the packaging involved in protecting it. It’s clear that food waste is a much bigger issue than we perhaps first thought. 

Where does my food waste go? 

This will depend on where you live in the UK. Some areas have food waste recycling programmes where the content of the caddy is taken to an anaerobic digestion facility. Here it breaks down into biogas and fertiliser. The process traps the food waste, leaving it to rot. Releasing methane which is then captured and used as biogas energy for UK homes. In some places, these facilities will produce enough biogas to bring power to thousands of homes. It’s why food waste recycling is so important so that all that energy isn’t lost to the atmosphere.

The importance of reducing food waste 

More than 930 million tonnes of food sold in 2019 was discarded. That’s £10.2 billion! The average UK household will waste anywhere between £250-£400 a year just by throwing out food. There are many reasons why we discard food, but storing it properly is a good place to start as it can help extend shelf life.  

During the first lockdown of 2020, 41% of us took a list for a pre-planned shop, 35% of us checked food better to make sure it didn’t go out of date, and 40% of us cooked more creatively, with 30% using more leftovers. 

These are the habits that build the foundation of a reduction in food waste. Knowing what you need to buy and sticking to a list. Using the items in your fridge that are going out of date first. But possibly, most importantly, using any leftovers creatively.

It’s clear to see that food and food waste does have a significant impact on climate change. When you break it down at an individual level, 25% of the average person’s carbon footprint is attributed to their food and food waste – including eating out. Keep an eye out for our next blog where we break down how to reduce your food waste impact into easy step-by-step actions.

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