The UK could save 6.2bn cubic metres of water each year if householders stopped wasting the 5.3m tonnes of food they throw away each year.
In addition, the same wasted food represents 3% of the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions – 14m tonnes of CO2. A further 6m tonnes of CO2 arises abroad as a result of the wasted food.
In the report, Thewater and carbon footprint of household food and drink waste in the UK, produced by WRAP in partnership with the WWF, the water and carbon footprint of wasted household food in the UK has been identified for the first time.
The research was carried out to raise awareness but also for use in “developing national and regional policies targeting a reduction in the impacts of our carbon and water footprint related to our food system”. It is also hoped the food industry will use it to understand and minimise water-related “business risk” associated with food supplies in the UK.
It follows a previous WRAP/WWF report which identified the UK throws away 8.3m tonnes of food and drink waste each year, of which 5.3m tonnes (60%) could have been eaten.
WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin said: “These figures are quite staggering. The water footprint for wasted food – 280 litres per person, per day - is nearly twice the average daily household water use of the UK, 150 litres per person per day.
“The greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste are greater than those already saved by the total amount of household recycling that takes place in the UK.
“Although greenhouse gas emissions have been widely discussed, the water used to produce food and drink has been overlooked until recently. However, growing concern over the availability of water in the UK and abroad, and security of supply of food, means that it is vital we understand the connections between food waste, water and climate change.”
Data showed that the type of foods with the largest share of the water footprint of household food waste were beef and cocoa products, which also rank the highest in UK’s external water footprint. The UK’s internal water footprint is equivalent to the direct household water use of 33m people. Ghana, Brazil and India were identified as the top three countries where the UK has the highest water footprints related to UK household food waste. However, the report highlighted the fact that products from Ghana and Brazil are rain fed, so do not put too much pressure on blue water resources. But research found that it is the local context within which the water is used to produce food which impacts the environment and other water users that is critical.
WWF-UK head of freshwater programmes Dr David Tickner commented: “Responsibility for improving the way in which water is managed lies primarily with governments and other stakeholders in affected river basins. But companies, policy-makers and consumers in the UK can help. Put simply, wasting less food can, in a small but very significant way, help dry rivers to flow again.”