Author: Alana Mellon
It is estimated that ⅓ of all food produced globally ends up as waste. This is both an environmental and ethical concern. As food decomposes in landfill, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Moreover, nearly 800 mill people worldwide suffer from malnutrition whilst food waste continues to exist.
In the UK 1 in 6 meals served in the hospitality industry are wasted. At the Sustainable Restaurant Association, we teamed up with Just Eat to conduct research to understand the true cost of food waste across the UK’s takeaway sector. Together we have also developed tools and resources, for both consumers and restaurants, to help them reduce the food they waste.
The initial research was conducted in December 2019 and showed that £1.8bn worth of takeaway food is thrown away every year in the UK. Of that, £376m worth of food waste occurs in takeaway outlets while households account for £1.4bn in wasted takeaway food across the year.
To understand how the outbreak of COVID-19 and lockdown has impacted food waste, further research was carried out in April.
The picture before COVID-19
At the end of 2019, restaurants reported wasting 9% of all food they purchased, costing individual businesses £111 every week. The most commonly discarded food was cooked (50%), followed by unused fresh ingredients (43%). Promisingly, almost three quarters of takeaway operators said they were making a conscious effort to reduce food waste. However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, our food supply chains have been upended. Takeaways remain open but consumption patterns have shifted. Unpredictable demand, amongst other factors, has led to a slight increase in food waste within takeaways.
On average, takeaways are now throwing away £148 worth of food per week. This has cost the entire sector a staggering £16.7m during lockdown. More than half of operators (54%) stated that fluctuations in demand have led to a surge in food waste. Disruptions to both supply chains and business models were also reported to be contributing factors, identified by 38% and 36% of restaurants respectively.
Food waste at home
Pre-COVID-19 the average household was throwing away 9% of takeaway food. This amounts to £1.4bn worth of wasted food every year. Consumers reported that the main reason for this waste was receiving portions that were much larger than they needed. At the same time, 84% said they were making a conscious effort to reduce food waste, while almost 60% would opt not to receive commonly wasted items, given the choice.
Weeks into lockdown, 84% of consumers agreed that food shortages have increased their awareness of food waste, and this had a positive impact on their behaviour. Consumers are now throwing away 7.2% of takeaway food, which has saved households a total of £22.4m during the lockdown period.
Keeping the momentum going to fight food waste
Consumers have made a conscious effort to ensure food is not thoughtlessly wasted. We have been inspired by our findings and together with Just Eat have brought together some of the best leftover recipes to further encourage people to see the remnants of their takeaway as another potential meal, rather than rubbish. Our leftover recipes are delicious dishes which anyone can whip up at home using commonly wasted takeaway foods. We have also put together our top tips for storing and preparing leftovers to ensure these recipes are as tasty as possible. We hope that the nation’s new found love for fighting food waste is not a blip, but rather a legacy of lockdown.
Recognising the challenges facing takeaway restaurants, both before and during COVID-19, we have developed guidance to help Just Eat’s network of Restaurant Partners tackle food waste too. Just Eat will also be providing operators with data which will help businesses prepare for fluctuations in customer demands. Together with guidance and resources from WRAP’s Guardians of Grub and Love Food Hate Waste, our campaign can help takeaway restaurants to reduce food waste.