The food we waste
UK households waste 6.7 million tonnes of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tonnes we purchase. Most of this food waste is currently collected by local authorities (5.9 million tonnes or 88%). Some of this will be recycled but most is still going to landfill where it is liable to create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The remaining 800,000 tonnes is composted by people at home, fed to animals or tipped down the sink.
Most of the food we throw away (4.1 million tonnes or 61%) is avoidable and could have been eaten if it had been managed better. Truly unavoidable food waste, like vegetable peelings, meat carcasses and teabags, accounts for 1.3 million tonnes a year or 19% of the total, with the remainder being ‘possibly avoidable’ food waste – items such as bread crusts that some people choose not to eat and potato skins which can be eaten when food is prepared in certain ways but not in others.
- The type of avoidable food we waste in the largest quantity is potato; 359,000 tonnes of potato goes uneaten every year, including 177,400 tonnes of potatoes thrown away whole and untouched (49%). Other commonly wasted types of food are slices of bread (328,000 tonnes a year), apples (190,000 tonnes including 178,800 tonnes thrown away whole and untouched), and meat and fish meals (161,000 tonnes). The food that is bought and then thrown away uneaten in the greatest proportion is salad; in the UK 45% by weight of all purchased salad is thrown away (60% by cost). Other foods that are wasted in high proportions include bakery items (31% of that purchased is thrown away) and fruit (26% of that purchased is thrown away).
- Nearly half (46%) of the avoidable food we throw away is in a fresh, raw or minimally processed state, with an additional 27% thrown away having been cooked or prepared in some way and 20% ready to consume when purchased. Starchy foods are most commonly thrown away after being prepared, with 45,000 tonnes of rice, 33,000 tonnes of pasta and 105,000 tonnes of potato thrown away each year, suggesting people prepare too much.
- Over one quarter of the avoidable food thrown away each year (nearly 1.2 million tonnes) is thrown away still in its packaging, either opened or unopened.
- Nearly 1 million tonnes of food is thrown away whole or unopened; this is nearly one quarter of all avoidable food waste. Foods most commonly thrown away whole are individual items of fruit; 2.9 billion items are thrown away very year. Vegetables and bakery items are also routinely thrown away whole and untouched; 1.9 billion whole vegetables are thrown away each year and 1.2 million bakery items.