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The UK has slashed food waste — here’s how

Food waste in a bin
Photo: Katie Nesling

Thanks to a range of relatively simple but effective interventions, the UK has become a global leader in tackling food waste — a major contributor to climate change.

The problem: Food waste alone contributes 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, says Kay Hope, an analyst at BofA Global Research.

  • A third of all the food grown for human consumption is wasted each year.
  • Yet using just a quarter of this waste could feed almost 900 million people living below the poverty line.

While it still has a long way to go, the UK has made meaningful progress in tackling this problem.

Between 2007 and 2012, household food waste in the country declined 21%, and the UK has since become the first nation to get halfway to its 2030 target of a 50% reduction in waste, according to Hope.

One “easy and effective change” was to adopt ‘best before’ rather than ‘sell by’ dates on products, says Hope, who’s based in the UK capital of London. Previously households tended to throw out food simply because it was past its sell-by date, even if it was still in good shape.

And that change has been tied to government- and industry-led efforts to redistribute surplus food.

“My own supermarket has a truck that comes about three days a week to collect food that’s close to its ‘best before’ date so that it can be redistributed — this has also been helpful to food banks in the area,” Hope tells The Progress Playbook.

Households are also required to separately recycle food and other organic waste, which authorities turn into compost or energy.

Meanwhile, researchers attribute at least some of the country’s food-waste gains to citizen awareness campaigns.

The Love Food Hate Waste campaigns, by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) nonprofit, provides households with advice on reducing waste, including better storage practices.

Yes, but: The government was recently criticised for scrapping food waste legislation that campaigners say could’ve accelerated progress.

The policy would have made food waste reporting mandatory for large- and medium-sized businesses in England, according to a report by the Guardian.

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