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Food waste may look like an Earth-friendly product, but it has a hidden dark side!

So what’s the problem with food waste? It just decomposes doesn’t it? 

Food waste is a global problem. About one third of all food produced for human consumption is waste. That’s about 1.3 billion tonnes, and all that waste is generating about 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.  

And no, all that waste doesn’t just decompose naturally, it depends on how you dispose of it. Food that ends up in landfill will rot, not decompose, and this produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more potent and damaging than CO2. Even if you recycle it properly, there’s still all the carbon dioxide, or CO2, use to get it from the farm to your plate in the first place.

In Scotland we throw away almost a million tonnes of food each year. 61% of this, so about 600,000 tonnes comes from households and consumers, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, only about 93,000 tonnes goes to dedicated food recycling collections. 

The food we waste also costs us money. Food waste in Scotland cost households over £1billion every year, which is around £440 per household. This is roughly how much you would save if you simply use your leftovers instead of binning them.

The top 5 wasted food items in Scotland are:

  1. Milk (31,000 tonnes)
  2. Bread (25,000 tonnes)
  3. Carbonated drinks (23,000 tonnes)
  4. Potatoes (19,000 tonnes)
  5. Ready meals (14,000 tonnes)

In addition to these we also throw away:

  • £70 million-worth of fresh fruit
  • 62,000 tonnes of fresh veggies
  • 70 million litres of drinks
  • £130 million-worth of meat and fish
  • 6 million slices of bread
  • £93 million-worth of dairy produce.

And you might think that household food waste is just a small percentage of all food wasted (surely the hospitality industry wastes more food?) but no, household food waste in the UK accounts for 71% of all food wasted.

UK households waste 5 million tonnes of food each year and whilst we would like to think that the majority of that waste gets recycled or composted, unfortunately that is not the case. Of the 5 million tonnes a massive 3.2 million tonnes ends up in landfill, where it rots and produces methane.

Emissions from food waste

Food waste rotting in landfill sites is not the only source of climate-damaging emissions that come from food waste; there’s also all the associate CO2 emissions that are produced from the day the seeds are planted, or the animals are born, to the day the food reaches your plate, such as manufacturing and delivery emissions.

Think of all the steps it takes to get your food to your table; the farm labour and machinery involved; the transport used to move the produce from the farm to the manufacturer, to the shops, to your home; the emissions from the packaging processes… the list goes on. If the food that was the result of this long process isn’t eaten and just becomes waste, the all those emissions were emitted unnecessarily.