UK the worst offender in Europe’s 22 million tonne food waste problem

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

UK the worst offender in Europe’s 22 million tonne food waste problem

Related tags: Food waste, European union

Around 80% of the 22 million tonnes of food wasted in the European Union is ‘avoidable’, according to new research that puts the UK bottom of the food waste league.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, looked at data from six national studies to determine the water and nitrogen resources lost in the EU due to consumer food waste – finding that the bulk of the avoidable food waste was vegetables, fruit and cereals, partly due to the shorter shelf-life of these foods.

"In some ways it's good that this waste is 'avoidable',"​ said Davy Vanham, a lead author on the paper. "Because it means we're able to do something about it."

While the bulk of food waste was vegetables, fruit and cereals, the authors found that wasted meat contributes more to lost nitrogen and water resources.

"Meat production uses much more resources in the first place,"​ said Vanham. "So even a little bit of waste can have a big effect in terms of lost resources."

Understanding food waste

Due to a lack of data on national food waste statistics, uncertainty in (consumer) waste quantities is very high, said the team – who noted that food waste has never been previously assessed in studies for the EU.

Vanham and his team aimed to quantify EU consumer food waste, and the associated natural resources required for its production (in term of water and nitrogen) as well as estimating the uncertainty of these values using national food wastage data for six of the 28 EU Member States.

"Ideally, we'd like data from all the Member States--but the data from the other countries is not as reliable. Certainly it would be useful if governments invested more in measuring waste with greater accuracy,”​ said Vanham.

The team used data from these six national studies as a base to average food waste for the entire European Union, finding that total EU consumer food waste averages 123kg per person annually and makes up 16% of all food reaching consumers.

Averaged over all the citizens of the EU together, this is 22 million tonnes of food each year. However, nearly 80% of this waste is ‘avoidable’, said the team – noting that on average 97 kg per person per year is edible food that is not consumed.

Cutting waste

In July the European Parliament urged EU countries to cut down on waste by getting supermarkets to give their unsold food to charities, rather than destroy it. The move came after French lawmakers brought in legislation in May that requires supermarkets to donate all unsold, edible food to charity in a bid to cut food waste​.

According to Vanham, there are many possible ways to reduce this waste.

"Education in schools would be valuable--and the food production industry is quite cautious--a lot of food is still 'good' but is thrown away when it passes its sell-by date,”​ he said.

The economic situation of the family also has an effect on food waste, as the cost of food becomes a less significant portion of the household's daily expenditure, said the team.

"We've noticed with Romania, and Africa, that there is less food waste as the population tends to have less money"​ said Vanham.

Source: Environmental Research Letters
Volume 10, Number 8, doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/8/084008
“Lost water and nitrogen resources due to EU consumer food waste”
Authors:D Vanham, et al

Related topics: Policy

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1 comment

These Statistics do not add up

Posted by Paul Haul,

I have studied and read the data from the European Union and the member states that "report" them and frankly they do not add up.
If you look at the population the domigraphics of a countries such as Germany or France and the UK and calculate the mass of food ""alleged"" to be thrown away per person per age banding - and a typical one might be a child under the age of 5 with a body mass of less than 20 kilogrammes it equates to him discarding over 5 times his body mass per year. Repeat that for a young person in the years before he is classed as an adult {aged range 12 to 18] and his body mass is less than 65 kilogrammes per year he then has to discard as much as twice his body mass per year, and a retired person a similar amount.
Rethink the issues further as the position is compounded by the facts that the anaerobic digestion industry cannot find enough food waste to turn into methane and they state that their businesses are thus not profitable as a result.
The statistics for the UK are glaringly a nonsense as the equations of value of food waste per household per year make nonsense as well.
Look again the the position in France where in one particular article presented to Madame Seguline Royale they could not even agree the figures within the first page. The quotation was stated as being "each person throws away 20 kilogrammes of food waste per year - and this equated to 5,800,000 tonnes per year! Since when has the population of France been 116 Million. Who is fooling whom?

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