Our Global Alliance is a network of global organisations committed to environmental action who share the ambition of The Prize to repair the planet, as well as academic and non-profit institutions and private sector alliances from around the world. Our Global Alliance and nominators are a key part of Earthshot, and as such, their news is great news for the environment and something we look forward to sharing on a regular basis.
This week, our Global Alliance Partner, WRAP, talk about food waste, the figures behind it, and how to reduce waste at home.
As each year passes, it becomes clearer that our world is experiencing the physical changes of the most urgent threat to our planet and humankind: climate change. The factors contributing to climate change are complex and layered, and their impacts are profound. One often overlooked factor is the impact wasting food has on greenhouse gas emissions, and this is one of the few factors we all have the power to prevent.
Globally, one third of food produced for human consumption goes uneaten. If wasted food were a country, it would be third in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, behind the US and China. All over the world this is a pressing issue, with the need to target, measure, and act greater than ever.
The environmental impact of this is hidden: while wasting the food itself is a shame – and a source of methane emissions if it ends up in landfill – the real waste comes beforehand in the resources used in production. It takes a lot of water, land, energy, time, and transport to bring food to our tables, which is in vain if we don’t then use it all up. If UK homes wasted no food for one day, it could do the same for climate change as planting half a million trees. The potential impact is enormous, which is ultimately empowering: we can all be part of the solution.
In the UK, from the farm gate onwards, 9.5 million tonnes of food is wasted every year, 70% of which originates in our homes. From bread crusts binned to milk bottles emptied down the drain, all the small morsels of food we unthinkingly discard add up to billions of pounds wasted by households, as well as greenhouse gas emissions created.
The issue extends beyond households. In 2018, 1.1 million tonnes were wasted in the hospitality sector, with another 1.5 million tonnes from manufacturers and 280,000 wasted from retailers. Clearly, across these sectors, there is a significant amount of work to do.
The good news is that progress is being made. In January 2020, WRAP reported that the amount of food wasted annually in the UK had dropped by 1.7 million tonnes since 2007. The Champions 12.3 2020 progress report called the UK’s and the Netherlands’ work in this field ‘exemplary’: in both countries, household food waste has been cut by around 30% per person. Love Food Hate Waste campaigns are making waves across the world from New Zealand to Canada, and WRAP’s work in collaboration with Mexico, Indonesia, and South Africa is building on the UK’s successful Courtauld Commitment to ensure the progress is replicated worldwide.
WRAP’s research into citizen attitudes in 2020 found that people increasingly recognise that wasted food is an important national issue; 90% believe they have a personal responsibility to minimise waste. Environmental awareness has been growing since David Attenborough’s landmark Blue Planet II series. His record-breaking influx of followers upon joining Instagram last September shows a cross-generational respect for the urgency of the issue. When asked in October 2020 how we can all make a difference, his answer was simple: just don’t waste – paper, electricity… and food.
The time is now to mobilise this environmental zeitgeist and turn our attention to our food. Every time we buy, store, and cook food, we have the opportunity to act for the benefit of our natural world. Against the backdrop of the looming climate crisis, making and sticking to a shopping list becomes a revolutionary act for change. But it’s not just our own plates we need to consider. The onus goes beyond citizens and extends all the way up to national governments and industry leaders to make a lasting impact.
In WRAP’s upcoming Food Waste Action Week, households and businesses alike can discover those small changes which can keep food out of the bin. From farm to fork, there are opportunities for improvements to our food system. The early days of the pandemic forced us to recognise the value of food and the multiple benefits of not wasting it, so putting in the hard work now safeguards our ability to produce food the future. The more we appreciate it now, the less strain we put on our water supplies, land, and soil, allowing our natural world to continue to provide us with the food that is so central to the way we lead our lives.
Lowering the temperature in our fridges from 7°C to under 5°C can keep food fresher for longer. Using every edible part of our ingredients can provide extra nourishment while reducing waste. Checking the cupboard before we shop prevents buying more than we need. The changes at home don’t have to be radical – but they do need to be rapid.
2021 is a watershed year for the climate. The global pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives, but also presents an opportunity to build resilience against future shocks into our global systems. The world is gathering at COP26 in November, which many are warning could be our last chance to avert worldwide catastrophe. Wasted food must be the focus of attention on the international stage, in business boardrooms, and in our homes. If we act now, we can continue to love food (and hate waste) throughout the years and even decades to come.