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Lets talk about food and drink waste…

Emma Drysdale
11th Sep. '19

Let’s talk about food waste. Are you guilty of buying too much and having to empty the mouldy contents of your fridge and cupboard into the bin? We’ve all been there at some point that is why we have such a food waste problem in the UK. 

Shockingly, Scottish households throw away 600,000 tonnes of food waste every year, around 40% of this is unavoidable. It is estimated that over a year the average family throws away around £700 of food shopping – equivalent to an annual utility bill?! Whilst some of the waste is made up of things like peelings, cores and bones, the majority is, or once was, perfectly good food. Currently only 55% of households in Scotland recycle their food waste which means that almost half of our food waste ends up in landfill.

So why is food waste bad?

Wasting food has a negative impact on the environment. Approximately one-quarter of man-made greenhouse gas emissions are created by food waste. When we throw food into landfill it emits harmful methane gas as it rots and degrades. Methane gas is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.  

Throwing away food is a waste of resources; think about all the energy, water and packaging used in food production, transportation and storage. Cheese for example – feeding and milking the cows, cooling and transporting the milk, processing it, packing it, getting it to the shops, keeping it at the right temperature. When you also consider the amount of water that is used when producing food you can begin to ascertain the ripple effects.  The Agriculture industry accounts for 70% of the water used throughout the world. So if we throw away 1kg of beef, we’re actually wasting a whopping 50,000 litres of water that was used to produce the meat. 

Conversely, a growing population leads to greater consumption levels and an increased demand for processed food. In order to meet these demands, food production would need to increase by more have half by 2050. 

How can we reduce food waste? Here are two few simple ideas;

  1. Get organised! ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ advocate that a shopping list along could save the planet. They suggest that just keeping a notepad in the kitchen can avoid random daily trips to the supermarket and save you around £200 per year! Having a meal planner also hugely helps, particularly for busy families. Not sure how much you need to buy? Use this handy portion planner as a guide.
  2. Make your food last longer by freezing things like potatoes, fruit and milk (if you have excess before they go off). Bread is a major problem when it comes to food waste it is estimated that near 24 million slices of bread in the UK are thrown away every single day because they’re not used in time. 

What to do with your food waste…

What you choose to do with your food waste depends what option best suits your lifestyle and diet. The first option is to compost. There are a few ways of doing that – 

  • Vermicomposting, or worm compost, is relatively compact, easy to make, and manage, plus has the added benefit of a whole family of new pets; red wiggler worms! 
  • If you have the space in your garden you might consider starting a compost heap with an open bin or pile, or a closed bin or a compost tumbler might suit your needs.
  • If you eat meat, fish and daily, there’s even methods of composting that into nutrient rich melon holes, or using a green cone keeps food out of the waste stream, however, doesn’t produces usable finished compost.

If you live in an area that has a local food waste recycling collection service, you can use this to dispose of anything you can’t eat, or compost at home. It can be recycled into a good quality soil improver or fertiliser and even generate electricity that can be fed back into the national grid. You can check whether your local authority offer a food waste collection service on our Recycling Locator.

 How is it recycled?

Many councils now collect food waste, which can be recycled in several ways including:

  • In-vessel composting involves mixing food waste with garden waste – shredding it and then composting it in an enclosed system for around 2-4 weeks (temperatures of up to 70°C speed up the process and ensure any harmful microbes are killed off). The material is then left outside to mature for a further 1-3 months with regular turning and checks to ensure quality before going on to be used as soil conditioner.
  • Anaerobic Digestion uses microorganisms to break down food waste, animal manure, slurries and energy crops in the absence of oxygen, inside an enclosed system. As it breaks down it gives off methane, which is collected and converted into biogas and used to generate electricity, heat or transport fuels. It also creates a nutrient-rich digestate that can be used as a fertiliser for agriculture and in land regeneration.

Environmental Impact

Reducing food waste is a major issue and not just about good food going to waste. It also has an impact on wasting food costs and has serious environmental implications too. If we collectively worked together to reduce our food waste the impact is huge. If we managed zero food waste in landfill it would be the environmental benefit equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road. Please thick twice before chucking your food scraps or tea bags in your landfill bin. 

Top Tips

  • Don’t forget to make the most of your food and drink and try to avoid wasting food in the first place. For ideas, recipes and simple tips visit Love Food Hate Waste. You could also try to compost at home. 
  • A food waste caddy in your kitchen can help you to separate out your food waste for recycling and composting. This can be emptied into your compost bin or council food waste bin every couple of days.
  • Your council may recommend that you line your food waste caddy with a liner or newspaper. Only use liners that are recommended by your council as some may not break down in the composting process.
  • Where possible keep your bins out of direct sunlight and keep the bin lid closed.
  • Cut flowers are allowed to go in your food caddy. (General garden waste is not allowed but flowers are!)
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