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New report highlights water and carbon impact of wasted food

22nd March 2011

The water and carbon footprint of wasted household food in the UK has been identified for the first time, highlighting the major environmental consequences of food waste, both in this country and globally.

The report, The Water and Carbon Footprint of Household Food Waste in the UK - jointly published by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and WWF today (Tuesday 22 March) - found that water used to produce food that householders in the UK then waste represents 6% of the UK’s water requirements, (6.2 billion cubic metres per year), a quarter of which originates in the UK. 

The 6.2 billion cubic metres of water used to produce the 5.3 million tonnes of food that householders waste every year is nearly twice the annual household water usage of the UK.

The same wasted food also represents 3% of the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions (14 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent) with further emissions arising abroad (6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent). In total, these greenhouse gas emissions are the same as those created by 7 million cars each year.   

The work follows reports in 2008 and 2009 by WWF and WRAP which identified that UK households throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink waste every year, 60% of which (5.3 million tonnes) could have been eaten.  By discarding that food, the water and energy that was used to grow and process those foods is not recovered, giving off greenhouse gas emissions that could have been avoided.

The report also goes on to identify the countries of origin for wasted food and looks at the context of water scarcity in those regions in the shape of case studies.

Liz Goodwin, chief executive at WRAP, said the new findings provided fresh context for the organisation’s work to prevent food waste:

“These figures are quite staggering.  The water footprint for wasted food – 280 litres per person, per day - is nearly twice the average daily household water use of the UK, 150 litres per person per day. 

“The greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste are greater than those already saved by the total amount of household recycling that takes place in the UK.

“Although greenhouse gas emissions have been widely discussed, the water used to produce food and drink has been overlooked until recently. However, growing concern over the availability of water in the UK and abroad, and security of supply of food, means that it is vital we understand the connections between food waste, water and climate change.

“There has been some progress already. Through WRAP’s work with retailers, food and drink manufacturers and local authorities, 670,000 tonnes of food waste were prevented between 2005 and 2009.  That means we’ve avoided the waste of 670 billion litres of water, but there’s still more to do.

“We already know that by reducing food waste, householders can save money. Now it’s absolutely clear that they can make a big contribution to addressing environmental concerns too.” 

Dr David Tickner, Head of Freshwater Programmes at WWF-UK, said: “The world is facing a water resources crunch as population growth, shifting consumption patterns and climate change take effect.  Many communities are already struggling to make hydrological ends meet, with the poorest people and ecosystems suffering as a result. 

“Responsibility for improving the way in which water is managed lies primarily with governments and other stakeholders in affected river basins.  But companies, policy-makers and consumers in the UK can help.  Put simply, wasting less food can, in a small but very significant way, help dry rivers to flow again.”

  • The water footprint of the UK calculates the amount of water used to produce goods and services consumed in the UK as the sum of direct (e.g. household water) and indirect (e.g. water used along the supply chains of good and services) use.
  • Carbon footprint refers to the greenhouse gas emissions of a product across its lifecycle, from raw materials through production or service provision, distribution, consumer use and disposal/recycling.
  • Avoidable food waste is classified as food which is thrown away that was, at some point, edible.  It is usually thrown away due to cooking, preparing or serving too much or because it was not used in time.
  • Current UK household recycling is estimated to save more than 18 million tonnes of C02 per year – that’s equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road (http://www.recyclenow.com/why_recycling_matters/why_it_matters/index.html)
  • WRAP’s vision is a world without waste, where resources are used sustainably. We work with businesses and individuals to help them reap the benefits of reducing waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way.
  • Established as a not-for-profit company in 2000, WRAP is backed by government funding from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Find out more at www.wrap.org.uk
  • WWF is one of the world's largest independent conservation organizations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries.  We're working to create solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature can thrive. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, tacking climate change and changing the way we live. 
  • In 2011, WWF's 50th anniversary year, we are celebrating what we have achieved so far together, and are positive about tackling the challenges of the future. Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.