Half the world’s food never makes it to our plate, with two billion tonnes binned due to bad storage, confusion over sell-by dates, supermarket bulk-buying offers and aesthetic imperfections.
A new study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers highlights the shocking levels of food that are grown then discarded across the world.
Wastage in the developing world occurs early in the supply chain due to poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage infrastructure. But in Europe, America and other developed nations, perfectly edible foods are discarded because of supermarket marketing strategies and consumer behaviour.
To put it simply, imperfect food is thrown away before it even makes it to the supermarket shelves, and shoppers are bad at making best use of the food we buy.
The report found that 30% of the UK’s vegetables don't make it into our stores simply because they don't look right.
Many farmers also over-produce to meet supply agreements with supermarkets. Dr Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, explains, ‘With the shift away from small shops on the High Street to large-scale supermarkets, we have lost the sense of value of food.’
Not only are throw-away levels a waste of food - the average household shells out £480 a year on groceries that are never eaten - but they are helping drain the world’s energy sources too. For example, 550 billion cubic metres of water are used to grow food that is never consumed.
Time to take action! By thinking carefully before you buy and also cooking smart, you can become more economic, efficient and help prevent global wastage - as well as save yourself money on your shopping bill.
‘Governments, development agencies and organisation must work together to help change people's mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers,’ says Dr Fox.
How to avoid waste
1. Check sell-by dates: Plan your meals properly to avoid tossing away food that's past its sell-by date. Make a list of meals for the week ahead and buy just what you need. If you live alone and find that multi-packs are simply too large for your needs, divide them and freeze what you don't need immediately.
2. Shop smart: Don’t be fooled by marketing ploys and stack your fridge with foods you won’t eat, just because you found a good deal. If you are tempted by a buy-one-get-one-freedeal, be sure it's something you will actually use and freeze the second item on the day you purchase it. Alternatively, go halves with a friend to split the cost - and the saving.
3. Control portions: Don’t let your eyes rule your belly. Plan to clear your plate without overeating. If you’ve made too much, think about packing it up and enjoying it at your desk for lunch the next day. Or freeze extra portions for days when you're too busy to cook from scratch. Left-over cooked veg can be the basis for a healthy homemade broth or add extra nutrition to a pasta sauce. Cut a loaf in half on the day you buy it and freeze the half you don't need immediately.
4. Go local: Getting your groceries from small independent stores will not only help you avoid tempting offers, you’ll also find they stock the misshapen squash and less-than-perfect pumpkins that supermarkets refuse to sell.