Every time we go shopping there is another rise in the price of food. According to the World Bank food prices have risen 75% globally. And Gordon Brown has launched a campaign to stop us wasting food. A national report says that we throw away over 4 million tonnes of food every year, costing each household at least 420 (and 610 for households with children).
The figures are staggering.
Nearly one quarter of the food waste is thrown away whole, untouched or unopened. Of this, at least 340,000 tonnes is still in date when thrown away. A further 1.2 million tonnes is simply left on our plates. Every day we throw away:
5.1 million whole potatoes
4.4 million whole apples
2.8 million whole tomatoes
7 million whole slices of bread
1.3 million unopened yoghurts and yoghurt drink
1.2 million sausages
1 million slices of ham
0.7 million whole eggs
0.7 million whole bars of chocolate and unwrapped sweets
0.3 million unopened meat-based ready meals or takeaway
0.3 million unopened packets of crisps
Financially this is appalling. Not only does it cost us personally to throw away food we have spent money to buy. It also costs the country another billion pounds to collect the waste and dispose of it – mostly to landfill. But we are not just wasting food and money. We are wasting energy too. Everything we eat has had some energy used to produce it. Farmers use tractors to spread fertilisers and pesticides – all energy users. Fuel is used in transporting it, often by air. Much of it is processed before we buy it, using still more energy. And more is refrigerated during storage. Then we store it and cook it. If it is then thrown away, all this energy is wasted, amounting to the equivalent of 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year, that’s the same as the CO2 emitted by one in every five cars on UK roads.
This is all bad news for the environment. When we know that we have to reduce our carbon footprint – the amount of carbon we emit – to avoid disastrous climate change, it is shocking that we waste so much. And it’s a moral issue too. When millions of people in the world don’t have enough to eat, how can we justify being so wasteful about our own food?
Of course, food is also wasted before it reaches us. Supermarkets reject up to 60 per cent of fresh produce because they do not fit their shape and quality standards and remove from the shelves food that is near its sell by date – still perfectly edible.
There are some things we can do. We can buy local food instead of food that has travelled miles to get here. We can buy less processed food. We can be smart about only buying what we need. And we can be imaginative about using what’s in the fridge or the store cupboard. All skills that will be essential in a climate changing world.