March 4, 2021, by sustainablenottingham

Don’t ‘waste’ the opportunity to reduce your food waste

As part of Sustainability Action Week and Food Waste Action Week, PhD student Hannah Ford delves into our fridges to find out why so much food is wasted in UK households each year. By becoming more sustainable in our shopping and consumption habits we can help reduce food wastage and the environmental impact of food production whilst alleviating food insecurity.

The unearthing of unidentifiable objects from the fridge or the back of the cupboard, which have grown their own colony of ‘friends’ and taken on a pungent aroma, is a common occurrence in many households. As these items are quickly disposed of, a wave of guilt and shame can soon arise, and for good reason. It is estimated that in the UK, the average household throws away £700 worth of food every year¹!

The amount of food wasted is continually on the rise in dizzying proportions, with an estimated third of food produced worldwide lost or wasted every year². Food is wasted at various points in the food supply chain, but according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme, a charity working with the UK government to reduce food waste, 70% of food wasted annually in the UK comes from households.

Why is so much food wasted?

The biggest contributors to consumer food waste in households relates to buying too much food, storing foods incorrectly and failing to use leftovers. In the western world, food choices are extensive with variety becoming the norm. Alongside clever marketing campaigns, it’s easy to get lured into special offers and buying too much. The habitual cycle of over-buying which subsequently leads to over-cooking and over-eating can be hard to break. Over-eating is a large contributor to food wastage which is detrimental not only to our health but also to ‘planetary’ health. In throwing away food, you essentially throw away all the energy required to grow, process and transport it.

Top tips to help reduce food waste:

  • Shop smarter: Put together a meal plan, make a shopping list and buy only what you need. If you get lured into special offers, consciously consider whether you will consume it. There is a wealth of meal planner apps available to help you plan and cook efficiently. A few reputable planners include: Tesco, Sainsburys, Pepperplate and MealPrepPro.
  • Start accepting wonky fruit and veg: Consumers need to overcome the perception that certain products are of lower quality and taste because they just don’t look ‘normal’. Try incorporating wonky fruit and veg as ingredients in cakes, jams, soups and you will soon realise they taste just as good! Oddbox, Wonky Veg Boxes and Morrisons are amongst the many companies and supermarkets offering wonky fruit and veg.
  • Understand best-before: It’s easy to get confused between best-before and use-by dates. Remember that foods passed their best-before are still safe to eat, but the quality may be reduced.
  • Store foods correctly: All too often food is spoiled because of incorrect storage. Check the packaging instructions and invest in some sealed containers. The NHS Eatwell Guide provides good tips on how to store food and eat leftovers safely.
  • Remember portion sizes: Oversized portions often leads to leftovers which are frequently thrown away. The British Nutrition Foundation offers informative guides to help you ‘find your balance’.
  • Make use of leftovers: Adapting recipes to make use of what you have can be a savvy way of reducing food wastage, saving money whilst potentially exploring new culinary creations! If you are struggling for inspiration, BBC Good Food offers a wide range of recipe ideas.
  • Don’t be afraid to freeze: People often underestimate the amount of food you can freeze (yoghurt, milk, meat, bananas, baked goods, bread etc). To keep your food safe, the Food Standards Agency offers guidance on how to chill, freeze and defrost food safely. BBC Good Food also has a long list of freezable recipes to get you creating.

There’re always some parts of foods that need to be thrown away. You’re not expected to turn into a human dustbin and polish up the leftover orange peels and tea bags! In this instance remember to recycle and use designated food composting bins with biodegradable bin bags.

It’s important we increase public awareness and make an effort to reduce food waste if we are to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal, which has set out to reduce food wastage by 50% by 2030.

There are many benefits to reducing food wastage, not only does it alleviate environmental stresses, it also supports farmers in utilising the whole crop. On an individual level, cutting your food waste can offer huge cost savings whilst improving personal wellbeing through a balanced and healthy diet. It is undoubtedly perplexing to think we live in a world where food wastage co-exists with food insecurity. Unfortunately, this paradox is prevalent in the UK, which has only been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic where food insecurity has reportedly quadrupled³.

If you find yourself in a position where you are able to donate surplus food to help reduce food insecurity whilst tackling food wastage, then visit UK charities such as the trussel trust and  Fare Share for advice on how to help.

Let’s not miss this ‘wasted’ opportunity but be clever in the way we buy, eat and dispose of food!

Further Reading

  • To find out more about the UK’s food waste reduction roadmap visit WRAP, a charity working with the UK government to reduce food waste. The Food Waste Action Week takes place 1 – 7 March 2021.
  • For some more great tips on how to reduce food waste at home, visit WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste Campaign.


  1. 2020. Waste & Resources Action Programme. Food surplus and waste in the UK – key facts.
  2. 2013. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Food wastage footprint. Impacts on natural resources. Rome, Italy.
  3. YouGov poll commissioned by the Food Foundation and the FFCC (Food, Farming and Countryside Commission).

Hannah Ford is a PhD student from the University of Nottingham in the School of Biosciences, exploring consumer behaviour regarding sustainability in the food and beverage section. She is currently looking for participants to take part in a short survey looking into UK consumers attitudes and perceptions to sustainable diets.

The need to start consuming more sustainable food and drinks is imperative if we want a more sustainable food secure future. Adopting a more sustainable diet as part of a shift in lifestyle choices is seen as one solution in tackling the global challenge of climate change.

You can have your say by taking part in the online sustainable dietary survey. Upon completion of the questionnaire, you have the option to be entered into a prize draw where 4 lucky winners will receive a £50 Amazon voucher!

You can follow Hannah’s work on Twitter and Instagram.

Posted in sustainabilitywaste