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UK households discard six meals weekly at £12.5bn annual cost

Throwing away uneaten food costs the average UK family nearly £720 a year and the whole nation £12.5bn a year, a new study from WRAP has revealed.

WRAP’s ‘Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK’ report claims that families unnecessarily discard 4.2 million tonnes of food, the equivalent of six meals a week.

Half of this food is put in the bin straight from storage without even being prepared for eating.

However, there has been a reduction of 21% in food waste since 2007, which saved consumers nearly £13bn over five years.

Andy Dawe, WRAP head of food and drink programme, told MRW that this rate of decrease is decelerating.

However, he noted that absolute levels of food waste have continued to fall every year since 2007, despite significant UK population increases.

Dawe added that the “natural blaze” at the start of food waste campaigning, resulting in significant reductions, needs to be followed up so that consumer behaviour changes become “ingrained”.

He added that moving onto raising awareness of the financial impact of food waste has brought the issue to a broader audience.

The new study reveals that the top three disposed of products are the everyday essentials: bread, potatoes and milk.

Households throw away 24 million bread slices per day. Dawe said this is a reduction of 35% from 37 million in 2007. He added that this shows food campaigns are having an impact and the figures can be brought down even further.

Dawe said that with bread it is important that consumers are able to buy the exact amount that they want, without confusion over sell-by dates.

He said that bread producer Warburtons, for example, has taken the shelf-life sticker off its loaves and kept only a clear use-by date on its packaging.

Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium (BRC) director of food and sustainability, said there was “plenty to be pleased about” in the figures.

He added: ““WRAP is right to highlight that combined efforts and effective partnership working will be key to delivering further reductions. Retailers accept that challenge and have recently committed to working with food manufacturers to cut total household food waste by a further 5% by 2015.”

The study also reveals that households unnecessarily dispose of the equivalent of 86 million chickens every year. WRAP cited the main causes of these waste as:

  • Food not used in time
  • Too much food prepared, cooked or served

The organisation attributes the 21% reduction in waste to changes in consumer behaviour regarding food storage and using leftovers. It claims this was aided by support from councils, retailers making clearer packaging and WRAP’s own Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

An internal WRAP study also suggests that the UK is capable of halving food waste by 2025 compared to 2007, although the organisation gave no detail on how this figure was calculated.

Dawe said WRAP chief executive officer Liz Goodwin is keen to put out a “rallying call” to stakeholders to reiterate the importance of food waste prevention. This will involve combined efforts between retailers, brands, governments and consumers.

Dawe added that Goodwin is due to talk about the outcome of its retailers food waste commitment scheme, Courtauld 2, in the next couple of weeks.

The Courtauld Commitment 3 runs up until 2015.

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