The Facts About Food Waste

No. More. Rubbish. Excuses. is written by Martin Dorey. As the Founder of The 2 Minute Foundation he knows how important it is to reduce our waste and to do it now. In a series of blogs we will be looking at the stats and solutions that he shared in his book. It’s time to reassess the way we live, shop and eat to help save the planet. It only takes 2 minutes! 

We don’t like waste

Each year in Europe we produce over 88 million tonnes of food waste. Annually, in the UK alone, this works out at 7.1 million tonnes. 

British supermarkets create around 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste a year, mostly through the transportation of food. 

Every year, agriculture produces around 135,500 tonnes of plastic waste in the UK, notwithstanding plastic packaging. That’s around 1.5% of the total waste stream in England. 

According to the UN, 20% of meat production, which is the equivalent of around 75 million cows, is wasted annually across the globe. 

An early analysis of data from our Beach Clean app notes that up to 34% of plastic waste found on the beaches was from the fishing industry. 

But what can be done about all this wasted food and plastic? Often there are small, planet-positive changes that we can make as individuals (a #2minutesolution) that will make a big difference. Below we’re going to dissect the facts stated above and describe the ways in which you can help. 

Food waste 

Statistics show that we throw away one fifth of all food we buy! Most of this ends up in landfill. What a waste. 

Here’s how we can help mitigate this:

  • Compost! Instead of chucking food waste in the bin, compost it. It’s good for the planet and a much better use of your left-over veggies and peelings. If you don’t have the option to compost at home there are often food waste caddies provided by the local council.
  • Don’t buy more than you need! Shop from your local butchers, bakers and grocers little and often, minimising your waste and keeping your fridge fresh. 
  • Tins and dried food can be donated to your local food banks.

Supermarket waste 

The food industry, together with the supermarkets, is responsible for a huge amount of plastic waste. This comes from the packaging used to store and transport food, plus the plastic that is used in production. 

Cut the plastic out by shopping locally. It isn’t always as easy as a flying visit to the supermarket, but the earth, the local economy and the local businesses will thank you for it. You’ll get produce that is grown in your area, therefore minimising your food’s carbon footprint and cutting out the packaging. You’ll also be helping the local economy and businesses in your area thrive, instead of lining the pockets of the supermarket giants. 

Another thing to consider when shopping are your bags. The plastic bag charge, which was introduced in the UK in October 2015, is credited with an 86% drop in the numbers of plastic bags given out at supermarket tills. Result! Let’s stamp out the use of plastic bags entirely by taking along our backpacks, using reusable cloth bags and stashing our shop in cardboard boxes that we’ll use over and over before eventually recycling. 

Agriculture waste 

Have you ever noticed the rows and rows of plastic wrap lining the fields in growing season? These are mulches. For a number of reasons, farmers use tonnes and tonnes of it by laying it on fields in strips then piercing holes in the plastic for the plants to grow through. An article about mulches in China in July 2019 from Reuters quoted a figure of 2 to 3 million tonnes of plastic mulches being used in the country every year, with only 180,000 tonnes of it being recycled. Where does the rest go? It’ll get burnt, sent to landfill or ploughed back into the soil, degrading it. Scarily, the same article said that traces of plastic have been found in Chinese exports of ginger and spinach. 

The solution? Other than buying locally, why not try growing your own? Lots of veggies thrive in the British summertime and if you plant them from seed it’s really cheap too. Better yet, you can leave veg on the plant until you need it. Beans and tomatoes are a lot happier (and stay fresh for longer) when they are quietly growing on their vines instead of stashed in plastic at the bottom of your fridge. If you don’t have much space why not try growing a herb garden? You don’t need to be green fingered, they’ll sprout in window boxes and you can dry them out at the end of the summer and save it for the colder months. No garden but keen to try your hand at growing this year? See if there’s an available allotment near you by clicking here.

Meat waste 

We, the consumer, are responsible for a quarter of the 20% of meat production that is wasted annually across the world. As we said above, 20% is equivalent to 75 MILLION cows! Have we become so detached from our food that we have forgotten where meat comes from and consider it acceptable to throw it away?

We’re not saying you have to turn veggie or vegan, we’re just asking you to be more conscientious of where your meat comes from. Battery-farmed, mass-produced meat is killing our planet. It’s bad for the environment, it’s awful for the animals, it’s unhealthy for our bodies and it can’t be ignored. Make a substantial effort to choose free range, happy meat and dairy, buy from your local butcher and village shop, reassess your meat consumption and don’t waste a morsel! 

Fishing waste 

The fishing industry is a main contributor to the marine plastic crisis. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s ocean plastic pollution is compromised of fishing nets that are lost or discarded at sea, adding up to around 640,000 tonnes. These nets are known as ‘ghost nets’ because they keep on fishing long after they have been lost (or deliberately dropped), killing hundreds of thousands of birds, mammals and fish every year through entanglement. 

Bottom trawling is a method of fishing that involves dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor. This is particularly damaging as it destroys everything in its path and catches everything indiscriminately. The mesh is small, which means undersized and immature fish are caught before they have a chance to breed, therefore destroying the line. 

We need to give the oceans a chance to recover. If you don’t want to give up eating fish entirely then make sure you do your research. Find out where and how your fish was caught. If there’s no good answer, don’t eat it.

Better yet, go fishing yourself or make sure it’s locally line caught. 

If you’d like to read about food and food waste in more depth, check out our Founder Martin Dorey’s book No. More. Rubbish. Excuses. As well as food and food waste, the book also looks at plastic and plastic alternatives, clothing and textiles, electronic equipment and using your voice. You can buy the book from our Beach Clean Shop by clicking here.

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