Food waste – what we can all do about it

Food  waste

We live in a crazy world; millions of people don’t get enough to eat and yet a phenomenal amount of food is being dumped and left to rot each year. We decided to find out more. Exactly how much food does get wasted and what are the implications? What can we do about it? We asked our chums over at FoodCycle who are experts at putting food that would otherwise get wasted to good purpose.

Food didn’t get wasted in our house when I was a kid. Money was short, food was precious, so we were told to eat everything on our plate. And anyway, everything mum put in front of us was delicious. Except on Tuesdays, when she made a lamb stew that our dad was partial to. It had a clear gravy with pearl barley floating in it and it made me heave. But these days the average UK household with children spends £680 a year on food that could have been eaten but is thrown away.

Chucking away enough to feed a billion people

Every day, people are throwing stuff into their supermarket trolleys that they’re never going to cook, never going to eat. There’s enough food thrown away in the UK and the USA each year to feed a billion people. That’s a staggering thought, that’s more than the populations of the US, Brazil, Russia, UK, Italy, France, Spain, Japan and Canada put together. In the UK alone we waste 18.4 tonnes of food and drink a year, at a cost of £17 billion. In the US, 14-15% of bought food is left untouched or unopened. That’s a supersize $43 billion of perfectly edible but uneaten food.

Marmande TomatoFruit and veg – the ugly truth

Then there’s the wastage caused by the excessively strict cosmetic standards set by supermarkets to meet the aesthetic demands of their customers. Between 20% and 40% of the fruit and vegetables grown in the UK are rejected even before they reach the shops – because they don’t look attractive enough. Which is nuts when you compare the flavour of those big, ugly and misshapen Marmande tomatoes with the ones that look like snooker balls but don’t really taste of anything.

All that wasted food is crops that have been grown and harvested, fruit that’s been picked, animals that have been reared and slaughtered and fish that have been trawled for or farmed, just to be dumped. As for the effect on the environment, if we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten the carbon impact would be the same as taking one in five cars off the road.

So what can we as individuals do about all this senseless waste? How can we contribute to making a difference? Here are some simple ways in which you can do your bit to stop this terrible waste of perfectly good, healthy, edible food.

Buy less food

fresh seasonal produceOK, this sounds like stating the bleeding obvious. But a little thought can make a big difference. Before you go shopping make a list, stick to it. Take some time to plan your meals, think about what you actually need to buy. Going to the shops and just grabbing things randomly means you’re far more likely to end up with surplus food at the end of the week. That’s especially true if you get sucked into two-for-one offers or heavily discounted bargains on food items you didn’t actually need in the first place. If we all reduce needless consumption we reduce demand and reduce waste.

Buy what’s in season

Supermarkets end up with huge gluts when certain fruits and vegetables are in season. Lots of unsold food is just left to rot because it doesn’t correlate to a spike in demand. Do your research about what foods supermarkets are likely to have a surplus of at particular times and base some exciting new recipes around them. Not only will you be saving food from being thrown away senselessly, you’ll also get the opportunity to cook something different. 


No matter how committed you might be to the cause of preventing food waste, there are always going to be some leftover scraps. Potato peelings, leaves, chopped off bits, soft bits, hard bits, that sort of thing. Compost it. If you don’t have a food waste bin in your kitchen, get one. Making compost is a good way of turning that inevitable amount of food waste into a useful commodity. If you don’t have a garden of your own where you can use it, give it away to someone who can. Or find an urban green space scheme to donate it to.

Freeze stuff

Another no-brainer. Instead of wasting those vegetables at the bottom of the fridge which either have to be used today or chucked away, make soup. Or vegetable stew. Or a veggie curry. Cook up a big batch and then freeze it in handy portions. Not only will you have used the food, you’ve also have some nice healthy food in the freezer for occasions when you don’t have time to cook from scratch. 

Give away your leftovers

make food go all the wayThis is the tip our FoodCycle mates like most of all. If you have too much food, give it to someone else.  One of the FoodCycle guys tells of how he knocked on his new next-door neighbour’s door to ask to borrow some coriander and came away with a nice bundle of fresh runner beans to add to his meal. In return he popped round the next day with some leftover sushi and ended up being invited in for a cup of tea.

Leftovers and surplus food is a great opportunity to say ‘hello’ to someone new and make friends. At FoodCycle they see combating food waste as a great way of getting communities together and experiencing the social value of a shared meal. Nipping round to a neighbour with a slice of leftover lasagne could make their day.

We’d like to thank everyone at FoodCycle for their help and inspiration with this article. You can learn more about their work by visiting

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