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WRAP calls on businesses to help reverse spike in self-reported household food waste

08/09/2021 – Food Waste / WRAP / Lockdown / Household / Survey

WRAP calls on businesses to help reverse spike in self-reported household food waste

Positive food management behaviours adopted during lockdown led to a 43-per-cent decline in food waste. However, as the UK reopens, household food waste is again rising, finds ngo WRAP.

The latest UK Food Trends Survey from WRAP shows that self-reported food waste has rebounded to pre-lockdown levels as restrictions lift, with more food potentially going to waste in UK homes as life returns to normal. 

The findings come from ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ – the campaign delivered by global environmental charity WRAP – and provide a snapshot of the UK’s food behaviours post-lockdown, from the longest-running survey of its kind.

Post-lockdown return of high food wasters

Love Food Hate Waste found that during lockdown many more people adopted positive food management behaviours that prevent food from going to waste – initially prompted by concerns about food availability and going out shopping. Almost four-in-five people took up an average of 6.7 new food management behaviours, which caused a sharp drop in self-reported food waste during the first lockdown. Across the four key foods monitored, levels of bread, chicken, milk and potato waste fell from nearly a quarter of all items purchased (November 2019) to 13.7 per cent in April 2020 – representing a 43-per-cent reduction in food waste. 

Levels of waste bounced back slightly in June 2020 but were still 26-per-cent lower than in 2019 by the end of 2020. The latest survey shows a spike in reported food waste coinciding with lockdown restrictions easing in June/July. In July, food waste was on par with pre-pandemic levels at 19.7 per cent, with three-in-10 people once again falling into the category of ‘high food waste’ – up from 20 per cent in April last year.

Time pressures and eating out

The survey suggests this rise is due to two overarching factors: firstly, we’re dropping the new habits we adopted as time pressures return. Of the skills we took up during lockdown, freezing, using up leftovers and batch cooking were reportedly the most useful. However, these same habits are the ones most at risk of being dropped (as is meal-planning) as we become more time poor – which 44 per cent or people report feeling. 

Secondly, more people are eating out or buying takeaways, meaning the food we intended to eat at home is replaced by a meal or take-out and can end up going to waste. Love Food Hate Waste found a significant spike in the number of meals delivered or eaten outside the home corresponding with people reporting wasting more food. On average, we ate 7.6 takeaways or out-of-home meals in the past month, compared to six in September 2020. 

Take-home message: ‘Wasting food feeds climate change’

Now Love Food Hate Waste warns that taking our focus off food could hugely undermine the UK’s recent success in reducing its household food waste*. In the year of COP26 – and amidst stark warnings from the IPCC – this could put the UK on the wrong trajectory. Love Food Hate Waste is asking everyone to remember that ‘Wasting Food Feeds Climate Change’. 

“One of the few positives of this extraordinary time has been people taking up new habits that prevent food from going to waste,” observed Sarah Clayton, Head of Citizen Behaviour Change at WRAP. “We’ve seen more people getting creative with their cooking; using up ingredients and leftovers. More of us have taken to checking cupboards and fridges before we shop, using our freezers and even batch cooking. And people tell us they have found these habits extremely helpful,” she advised. “But the return of busy lifestyles means we are falling back into our old ways, and that risks these key skills not being used. After the shocking news from the IPCC this month, it is imperative we remember that wasting food feeds climate change, and most food waste happens in the home. 

“Preventing food waste is one way we can all reduce the impacts our diets have on the environment, and fight climate change as individuals,” she added. 

Galvanising support from retailers and manufacturers

To help reverse this spike in self-reported food waste, Love Food Hate Waste and WRAP want more businesses and signatories to the Courtauld Commitment 2030 to support its focus on household food waste – the largest contributor to the UK’s 9.5 million tonnes of food waste (post farm gate). WRAP said it wants to galvanise support from retailers, food producers and manufacturers, local authorities, and community groups to support Love Food Hate Waste and “ensure the positive food management behaviours people adopted become the ‘new normal’, not a lockdown footnote”. 

The organisation also has a programme of behaviour change interventions to nudge people around common triggers that cause food waste, such as displaced meals when we eat out or buying takeaways, and a lack of time. WRAP is seeking more partners to further develop these and is hard at work planning for the second annual Food Waste Action Week in March 2022.

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