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Instagram could be fuelling food waste epidemic, study says

By Emma Jane Cash , 13-Feb-2017
Last updated on 13-Feb-2017 at 15:14 GMT2017-02-13T15:14:52Z

© iStock
© iStock

Millennials’ 'live to eat' mentality could be one of the reasons why household food waste is higher than ever, according to a survey commissioned by UK supermarket Sainsbury’s, yet the report is facing criticism.

The report by Sainsbury’s , alongside research from UK food waste organisation, Wrap, estimates that 4.4 million tonnes of household food waste is avoidable, and is due to overbuying and lack of planning.

As part of the brand’s 'Waste Less, Save More' initiative, Sainsbury’s is investing £10 million (€11.8 million) to help its customers reduce their food waste.

The report showed a significant amount of waste is created by people – especially those under 35 – purchasing “exotic and unusual ingredients without knowing how to use them up”.

It continued: “The desire to explore the latest foodie trends is contributing to food waste with 86% of us [admitting] to buying ingredients for one specific recipe, knowing we will struggle to use it again” as they look “great on our Instagram feed”.

According to the data, only 3% of people believe there is a social stigma attached to wasting food.

After a survey of 5,050 people, the study concluded that nearly half of 18-24 year olds admit a lack of knowledge in the kitchen, whereas only 12% of over 65s feel the same.

The data showed older generations were generally savvier when buying and using food compared to millennials, and were more confident using leftovers.

In the UK, 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year, of which seven million tonnes is household food waste.

Speaking about the survey Dr Polly Russell, food historian and broadcaster said: “A post-war increase in household food waste is due to changes in how we value choice, time and money in relation to food.”

“Gone are the days of eating the same food, on the same days of the week, week in, week out. Most people today, particularly younger generations, demand variety. However, with a menu which changes often, it is more challenging to control waste and plan ahead.”

Sainsbury’s estimates that writing a shopping list could save consumers £145 (€170) annually, yet only 56% of people use this tactic as a cost saving measure when shopping.

In comparison, only 65% of consumers identify themselves as ‘savers’ other than ‘spenders’.

'The real cause is supermarket culture'

However, the report's conclusions have been criticised by some commentators.

Food journalist, Nick Hughes, called it a "dead cat strategy" - a diversionary tactic - in a recent tweet, saying that Sainsbury's is deflecting attention rather than addressing structural issues.


Nell Frizzell, writing in The Guardian, said that blaming millennials is "nonsense".

"Forget dinner photography; the real cause of food waste is a postwar, intensive farming and supermarket culture that has divorced us entirely from how food is made, grown, produced and should be eaten," Frizzell said in a comment piece. 

"I know lots of good people who have never grown so much as a lettuce, have never been to an arable farm, have never seen an orchard, have never met a vegetable grower and so don’t understand quite what it means to throw away an apple just because it’s got a brown spot on one side".

The Sainsbury’s ‘Save More, Waste Less’ initiative has invested £1 million (€1.2 million) into Swadlincote, Derbyshire, as part of a year-long trial to cut food waste.

This is not the first time Instagram has been blamed for issues surrounding food. In 2015, a  stud y  concluded that social media could be to blame for rising obesity levels, due to ‘food-porn’ giving us food cravings when we are not hungry. 

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