Is it ok to throw away food that’s perfectly good to eat?

Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO, WRAP

It was great to see so much coverage in the print and on-line media of our annual conference.

It seemed to stimulate plenty of debate, not only around the issue of reducing the amount of household food waste but also of how we can all make the most of opportunities of reuse.  It was interesting to read people’s views.  Not everyone was persuaded that throwing away food that’s perfectly good to eat is a bad thing, and some individuals wondered whether hanging on to things like furniture and white goods for longer (and therefore not buying new items so often) might not have a damaging effect on the manufacturing sector.

Our research though, is pretty clear.  Not only are we wasting money if we buy food and then throw it away.  There are also knock-on financial and environmental effects.  Waste food that’s collected by local authorities has to be disposed of somehow, and at the moment, every year, around four million tonnes end up in landfill.  That costs the councils millions of pounds….  And we know that in the current economic climate, our local authorities are facing challenging budget restrictions which are impacting on their ability to deliver services for their communities.

At the same time, there’s the carbon footprint associated with disposal and, often overlooked, both the carbon and water impacts of growing, manufacturing and processing foodstuffs that end up in the bin. We calculate that the water footprint for all this wasted food is around 4,500 million cubic metres every year – or around 4% of the total UK water footprint.

Of course, food waste isn’t just an issue for householders – it’s also a big issue for the hospitality sector.  Our research shows the sector could save around £724m by recycling and tackling food waste.  We’ve begun doing some work with some of the major players in the industry to see if we can develop a voluntary agreement along similar lines to the well-established and successful Courtauld Commitment.

And as for the question regarding the potential impact of reuse on the UK’s manufacturing sector, we think this would be marginal, and that any job losses, for example, would be more than offset by the creation of new employment opportunities.  These could come, for example, in charity shops, furniture refurbishment and resale outlets, electronics repair and refurbishment, bicycle repair and resale etc.

For a great example of how this can work in practice, see what the East Belfast Mission is doing.  The charity has received some funding from WRAP Northern Ireland which has helped it along the way …

I think it’s important that as a society, we at least consider the opportunities presented from the long-term view.  Creating a new economic sector in the area of reuse may take time to build, but it does seem to offer real financial and environmental benefits that would be long lasting.


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