Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 11:21 UK

Food waste on 'staggering' scale

A landfill site
Food waste contributes to landfill, creating methane gas

People are needlessly throwing away 3.6m tonnes of food each year in England and Wales, research suggests.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that salad, fruit and bread were most commonly wasted and 60% of all dumped food was untouched.

The study analysed the waste disposed of by 2,138 households.

Environment Minister Joan Ruddock said the findings were "staggering" at a time of global food shortages and WRAP added it was an environmental issue.

'Value of food'

The study found that 9bn of avoidable food waste was disposed of in England and Wales each year.

It is mostly food that could have been consumed if it had been better stored or managed, or had not been left uneaten on a plate.

Much of that food waste goes into landfill rather than into council food disposal and composting programmes, it said.

There are climate change costs to all of us of growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin
Joan Ruddock, Environment Minister

Based on the data for England and Wales, WRAP estimated that householders across the UK throw away 10.2bn of avoidable food waste every year.

Using the same extrapolation, they also estimated the average UK household needlessly throws away 18% of all food purchased. Families with children throw away 27%.

The study also suggested 1bn worth of food wasted in the UK was still "in date".

Nearly a quarter, in terms of cost, was disposed of because the "use by" or "best before" date had expired.

Liz Goodwin, chief executive of WRAP, said food waste had "a significant environmental impact.

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"What shocked me the most was the cost of our food waste at a time of rising food bills, and generally a tighter pull on our purse strings," Ms Goodwin said.

"It highlights that this is an economic and social issue, as well as about how much we understand the value of our food."

Yoghurts and chickens

The study also found that:

  • Bakery goods made up 19%, by weight, of all avoidable food waste. Vegetables contributed 18%.
  • Meat and fish also made up a large proportion - 18% - of the total money wasted on food. WRAP said 5,500 whole chickens were thrown away each day in the UK.

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    This amount of waste is truly disgusting
    Mark, UK

  • "Mixed foods" like ready meals made up 21% of the total cost of waste, with 440,000 thrown away each day.
  • The two most significantly wasted foods that could have been eaten were potatoes and bread
  • Yoghurt was a commonly abandoned product, with an estimated 1.3m unopened pots disposed of each day.

WRAP receives government funding from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The foods that we throw away the most

The body says The Food We Waste survey is the first of its kind in the world, surveying both household habits and the actual waste they throw away.

The survey interviewed 2,715 households in England and Wales and several weeks later, analysed the rubbish of 2,138 of them.

Ms Ruddock said: "This is costing consumers three times over.

"Not only do they pay hard-earned money for food they don't eat, there is also the cost of dealing with the waste this creates.

"And there are climate change costs to all of us of growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin."



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