The easy work has been done; it’s time to face the uncomfortable reality of wasted food

Dr Marcus Gover, CEO

Last month, our expert Helen White did an audit of my fridge for me as part of Zero Waste Week. Luckily, everything was in the right place (and the right temperature), but she did remind me of something that shocks me – the most common reason why food is wasted at home is because it’s not used in time.

I know me and my family have been guilty of this once or twice. Busy lifestyles (especially pre-Covid) have sometimes meant that our good intentions have fallen by the wayside, and on rare occasions we’ve found some forgotten bits and pieces at the back of the fridge.

They would always go in our food waste caddy, but still. That’s a little way I’ve contributed to climate change.

We all do it – 4.5 million tonnes of food which could have been eaten is wasted from UK homes every year. It all comes from somewhere, whether it’s the vegetables we forgot to freeze before going away for the weekend, or milk we kept at the wrong temperature that went off quickly. Not only are we paying the price for this – it’s worth over £700 a year to the average family – but the planet is too. If we stopped wasting food at home, it would be the same as taking 1 in 5 cars off the road.

Zoom out to the world and you begin to see the scale of the problem. Wasted food accounts for six times more greenhouse gas emissions than global aviation, since wasting food also means we waste the water, land, and energy that was used to produce it. So, by simply using up the food we buy we can have a far greater impact on protecting our planet than taking fewer plane rides. Sadly, only one third of people in the UK see how wasting food contributes to climate change.

At WRAP we are on a mission to change this, to make wasting food outdated. We’ve come a long way since we started in 2007, but we still have a long way to go, especially in our households. I joined my fellow Champions 12.3 recently to appeal for seriously accelerated action in tackling this urgent problem. The latest annual report showed that many countries are ‘woefully behind’ the UN Sustainable Development Goal target to halve food loss and waste by 2030. The UK, led by initiatives like WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment and Love Food Hate Waste, was held up as a beacon of hope for the world to follow.

And, today, on World Food Day, we’re continuing to carry the torch, and taking our efforts up a notch to push for real change. Our bold new brand, Wasting Food: It’s Out of Date, pulls no punches. Launched today, it aims to open the public’s eyes (especially those who have proved hardest to motivate) to the damage food waste is inflicting on our planet, and to inspire and support them to take action. It reinforces the message that we all have a part to play, and a small act can make a big difference.

The threat of climate change dominates our lives, and we know that more people want to do something to help. This is it.

The story so far

How do we know it will work? Because WRAP’s work is built on the foundations of robust understanding and evidence, developed since we started our ground-breaking work in reducing wasted food in 2007, when we published the first and seminal major study on household food waste. Back then, over 11 million tonnes of food was wasted every year, roughly equal to a quarter of all food and drink purchased in the UK.

Since then, we’ve made significant progress. We’ve worked in partnership with a variety of changemakers across the food sector through our landmark Courtauld Commitment. We’ve produced labelling guidance which is followed consistently on packaging across the country. We’ve supported a major redistribution effort, and we have worked with partners on the trailblazing UK Food Waste Reduction Roadmap which commits businesses to a Target, Measure Act approach. For citizens, our existing Love Food Hate Waste campaign has reached millions of people. This has all played a big part in the UK reducing its per capital waste of food that could have been eaten by 27% (1.7 million tonnes), making the UK the first country in the world to hit the halfway target to 2030.

Without having unrivalled insight into how and why our nation wastes food, we could not have developed the targeted, strategic approach which has led to this achievement. It has enabled us to take stock, understand when and why food waste reduction had stalled, and look for new, more focused, and strategic interventions which we know work. Our specific, in-depth understanding of how lockdown measures have affected food behaviours has informed our work, enabling us to help 7 in 10 of those who engaged with Love Food Hate Waste to change their behaviour. But there’s more to do.

Food should be tasted, not wasted

Like for everyone, 2020 forced WRAP to reassess what was possible.

We have both adapted to respond to the national collective response, as well as ensured that we remain focused on our longer term aims. In many ways the pandemic has exposed the fragility of our existing supply chains and reinforced the need to build in sustainability to respond to future shocks. Our vision and work are as important as ever.

Now, the time is right to speak more directly to citizens. Through our nationally recognised Love Food Hate Waste brand we’ve successfully reached a third of the UK population, leading to substantial behaviour change for people who engage with our campaigns. However, to reach and inspire the rest of the UK, we need to be bold.

This is the vital role that our dynamic new brand, Wasting Food: It’s Out of Date, can play. Our changing climate is something more than 80% of people are concerned about, yet just a third of people truly connect wasting food with these global consequences.

The new brand philosophises that our food is as precious as our planet; that food should be tasted, not wasted. Crucially, I think most people in the UK believe this. We just need to help them join the dots with how not wasting food can be of benefit to our natural world.

The hard work to waste less food is everyone’s responsibility

The easy wins have been won. All the quick victories are behind us, and we cannot stop there – rising temperatures on our fragile planet are too urgent to ignore. Now, we have our sights set on the people who don’t yet care. The ones who have not and will not be moved by an upbeat Love Food Hate Waste campaign. The ones who need to hear the consequences of every slice of bread wasted.

For us at WRAP, and our partners, it is time to be clear that wasting food is something society can no longer tolerate. We need to be supportive and pragmatic, and not judgemental, focusing on what we think will motivate people – climate change being one.

Everyone must support citizens – from national and local government, to retailers and manufacturers. We can and must all work together to show that Wasting Food: It’s Out of Date.