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How much food do we waste?

Here at Come Scavenge With Me, food waste is one of our key concerns. Not only is the ‘liberation’ of wasted food a central tenet of freeganism, but if there was less waste in the first place, the world would be a better place financially, environmentally and socially.

WRAP, the anti-waste organisation, have provided figures for volumes of food waste in 2006/7 and then 2009. For each of the two twelve-month periods the data is broken down both by category of food/drink, and by whether or not the waste is deemed ‘possibly avoidable’ or ‘unavoidable’.

‘Possibly avoidable’ waste is defined as “food and drink that some people eat and others do not (e.g. bread crusts), or that can
be eaten when a food is prepared in one way but not in another (e.g. potato skins).” ‘Unavoidable’ waste is that “arising from food or drink preparation that is not, and has not been, edible under normal circumstances (e.g. meat bones, egg shells, pineapple skin, tea bags).”

The data for 2009 is based on a model whereby an increase in the volume of sales of a given category of food or drink is assumed to lead to an exactly proportionate increase in volume of waste. For example, if the amount of fresh fruit bought by households in 2009 is 10% greater than it was in 2006/7, the model increases the volume of waste for fresh fruit by 10% over the same period.

In order to make the statistics a little easier to understand, we have put together four charts to illustrate the underlying patterns. You can click on each chart to browse a larger version and explore the numbers in more detail.

The first chart, below, shows the changes in volumes of ‘possibly avoidable’ food and drink waste between 2006/7 and 2009. Note that the figures for drink are not shown, as there none of the waste associated with drinks is deemed by WRAP to be ‘possibly avoidable’. Each pair of bars represents a specific category of waste, and the units are grams per person, per week. These figures were calculated by taking overall totals, in tonnes, dividing them my the UK population for the given period, dividing by 52 and then multiplying by 1,000,000. As you can see, the general trend is a pleasing one. In only one category – dairy and eggs – is there an increase in waste, and that is only by three milligrams!

Changes in possibly avoidable food and drink waste

Changes in possibly avoidable food and drink waste, 2006/7 to 2009

This next chart shows similar figures, but for ‘unavoidable’ waste. Once again levels of waste drop in every category apart from ‘dairy and eggs’. Note that the figures for drink and bakery are not shown. For drinks this is because they are too small to appear on the chart, while for baked goods the reason is that WRAP do not deem any of this type of waste to be unavoidable.

Changes in unavoidable food and drink waste, 2006/7-2009

Changes in unavoidable food and drink waste, 2006/7-2009

The next pair of charts show the proportions total household food waste made up by each of the categories. The first shows data for ‘possibly avoidable’ waste. The vast majority of waste comes from fresh vegetables and salads, while the second-largest proportion is for ‘all other categories’, i.e those not included in each of the five specific groups. This could be an indication that families are throwing away items like potato skins and lettuce stalks despite the fact that they can all be eaten!

Possibly avoidable food and drink waste by category, 2009

Possibly avoidable food and drink waste by category, 2009

The final chart (below) shows the proportions of ‘unavoidable’ waste made up by each group. This time fresh fruit and drink are the two dominant categories, accounting for 34.2% and 29.3% of waste respectively. With fresh fruit this may well be due to the fact that with items such as fruit skin and stones, there is little other option than to throw them in the compost bin. For drinks the most likely explanation is that they come, almost without exception, in packaging that has to be disposed of.

Unavoidable food and drink waste by category, 2009

Unavoidable food and drink waste by category, 2009

The overall picture is a positive one, but there’s still a long way to go in terms of cutting down on avoidable waste. In 2009 we were still throwing away an average of 237 grams of salad and vegetables per week – when you think about it, this is far more than you would typically eat in one serving of greens!

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