My simple guide to wasting less food as lockdown lifts

Sarah Clayton, Head of Citizen Behaviour Change

This week I was lucky enough to get my hair cut, in a real hair salon, with real people and everything! Aside from having my temperature checked before I was allowed in, hand sanitiser bottles everywhere, gaps between seating and hairdressers in plastic visors, it felt like a just a little bit of ‘normal’ after months of upheaval.

As lockdown restrictions start to lift across the UK and we wonder what happens next, it’s important to reflect on the changes we have made when faced with huge, unexpected and prolonged disruption to our once daily routines. 

One way we have all adapted to life in lockdown has been wasting less food. For me, it’s sometimes victory enough just to get food on everyone’s plates without tantrums (mine, my toddler’s, or my dogs’), but since March 23 there’s been a lot more to think about and adjust to. 

Like most people, I wanted to avoid leaving my home, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who couldn’t find flour anywhere when my daughter wanted to make cakes! Having enough food in case of a two-week period of self-isolation was on my mind a lot in early lockdown, and our research from April shows that this was true for people across the country. 

WRAP is an organisation built on robust, relevant research, finding out what motivates people and how we (and our partners) can encourage them to act. The amazing research we conducted at the start of lockdown showed that people responded to the challenge by taking great measures at home to make their food go further. Since most of the food wasted in the UK comes from households, this suggests a big impact on the national situation.

We accepted the limitations on leaving home and altered the way we plan, store, and cook. Almost half of us started checking our fridges and cupboards before shopping, 35% started cooking creatively, or combining random ingredients to make a meal, and we began managing our fridges and freezers better to stop food going to waste. 

These great changes led to a self-reported 34% reduction in how much food we waste at home. Looking at why this happened, we found that 54% of us wanted to avoid the supermarket as much as possible, but 37% felt motivated by having more spare time in lockdown. 

Now, having spoken to another 4,000 people in June to see how the easing of lockdown restrictions has affected the way they manage food, it seems that time is a crucial factor in whether people continue their good habits.

Some aspects of ‘normal’ life are resuming, but so are the increased time pressures which for some people had changed for the better. People are finding that wasting less food is falling down their list of priorities. Although we’re actually all picking up even more behaviours to manage food better (up from 6 behaviours per person to 7), this isn’t resulting in a reduction in waste. In fact, people are reporting that their waste has increased again since April.

Those concerns about avoiding the supermarket or having enough food are weakening. The results from June showed that a quarter of people don’t believe they now have the time available to maintain the behaviours they started in lockdown.

Juggling work, home and other responsibilities are challenging enough at the best of times, but with a global pandemic, it’s been even trickier. We’ve all got a limited cognitive capacity, so the fact that we picked up these new behaviours in the first place shows how adaptable we can be. Now, we must build a new version of ‘normal’, and wasting less food must be a part of this. We ask our key partners to help support us, as the more people we can reach with our messages, the better.

Here are a few things I’ve been doing at home to waste less food: 

  • I have a wipe-clean list on the fridge which I add to every time I finish something up. 
  • I write days on packaging in marker pen, so I don’t have to work out the ‘use by’ dates each time.
  • I eat skin-on wedges – recommended by Love Food Hate Waste’s own Compleating campaign. I don’t ever want to go back to spending ages peeling spuds! Potatoes are the most wasted food in UK homes, so this action alone would have a big impact if we all gave it a go. 
  • My freezer has become my new best friend (remember, I’ve not been getting out much!), and again the old marker pen comes in handy to write on the labels what each container holds.
  • My daughter and I have become expert cake bakers, but banana bread has been a revelation!

Our June research showed that people who returned to their regular workplace after working from home or being furloughed, and those with children who returned to school in June, are significantly more likely to report higher levels of food waste compared to the UK average. We as WRAP want to be as helpful as possible to people whose lives are becoming busy again, encouraging and enabling them to keep up those good lockdown behaviours.

In August, Love Food Hate Waste is launching its ‘Keep Crushing It’ campaign to do just that – shining a light on the quick and easy actions people can take to save time and money, and avoid wasting food. 

This summer gives us the chance to weave some simple but effective food management behaviours into the fabric of life after lockdown, whatever situation we’re in. Love Food Hate Waste has a vital role to play in helping people on their way to wasting less, and we hope to be joined by our key partners as we carry out this essential work.