Food - Overview

This section of the Waste Prevention Hub describes the extent of food waste in the home and how it can be prevented.

WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) campaign contains useful reference material that local authorities can draw on to promote food reduction in their area.

Key Points

  • 7 million tonnes of food and drink waste was thrown away from our homes in 2012.
  • Of this 4.2 million tonnes was avoidable food and drink, worth £12.5 billion.
  • 19% (by weight), of food and drink brought into the home is thrown away. Food waste that is disposed to landfill generates methane, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than carbon dioxide. Not wasting good food and drink would have the same positive environmental impact as taking 1 in 4 cars off UK roads.
  • Food waste in the home is not the only source of food waste, but WRAP’s work shows it makes the single largest contribution; around 50% of total food waste in the country.

Categories of food waste

The key to reducing food waste is to target the items which can be reduced by changing consumer behaviour. It is helpful to distinguish the following categories:

  • Avoidable food waste – food and drink thrown away that was, at some point prior to disposal, edible (e.g. slice of bread, apples, meat).
  • Possibly avoidable – food and drink that some people eat and others do not (e.g. bread crusts), or that can be eaten when a food is prepared in one way but not in another (e.g. potato skins).
  • Unavoidable – waste arising from food or drink preparation that is not, and has not been, edible in normal circumstances (e.g. meat bones, egg shells, pineapple skin, tea bags).

Why do we throw out food?

WRAP research published in 2012 identified several reasons why food is thrown out:

  • Just under half of avoidable food and drink waste (worth £5.6 billion) was ‘not used in time’: it was thrown away because it had either gone off or passed the date on the packaging.
  • A further 31% (worth £4.1 billion) was classified as ‘cooked, prepared or served too much’: this included food and drink that had been left over after preparation or serving.
  • Approximately 80% of food and drink is wasted because it either wasn’t used in time, or too much was cooked, prepared or served, so addressing these issues will deliver the greatest benefits.
  • The remaining reasons for food waste are linked to personal preferences including health reasons and not liking certain foods (£1.9 billion), and accidents, including ‘food dropped on the floor’ and ‘failure of a freezer’ (£560 million).

The full research report is available here

What causes this?

Examples of behaviour in the home which contribute to the issue of food waste include:

  • Lack of knowledge around portions.
  • Lack of knowledge of how to prepare food and how to cook.
  • A lack of confidence in the kitchen and more specifically about what to do with leftovers and forgotten foods.
  • People are unclear about dates such as display until, use by and best before. Nearly half of us throw away at least one product a week because they've 'gone past their date'.
  • Finding the appropriate level of packaging for food is essential – for portioning, shelf life, protection and freshness and quality – e.g. keeping certain fruit and veg in a loosely tied bag or in original packaging in the fridge can extend their life by up to two weeks. 

For more details on WRAP’s work with retailers and manufacturers, including work on packaging, see: http://www.wrap.org.uk/category/initiatives/courtauld-commitment.

What will help to reduce food waste?

WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign website is a comprehensive resource of food waste prevention guidance.  We’ve provided a succinct summary of the website’s content on a separate page: Love Food Hate Waste.