Food waste falls by 7% per person in three years

24 January 2020

  • New data shows almost half a million tonne reduction in total UK food waste in just three years – enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall ten times.
  • Reducing food waste has saved citizens over £1 billion per year compared to 2015.
  • WRAP calls for further action to reduce food waste to help tackle climate change.

The UK is making significant steps in reducing its food waste, with total food waste levels falling by 480,000 tonnes between 2015 and 2018 – a 7% reduction per person and equivalent of filling London’s Royal Albert Hall ten times.

The new data comes from sustainability not-for-profit WRAP’s latest Courtauld Commitment 2025 Milestone Progress Report, which sets our progress in food waste reduction since 2007. It reveals that households and businesses are now tackling the problem at an accelerated rate, with a greater rate of progress from 2015 to 2018 than over the preceding five years.

Looking back to when WRAP began work on household food waste, a total of 1.4 million tonnes of food has been saved from going to waste each year in our homes compared to 2007 levels - enough each year to fill 150,000 food collection trucks which, if placed end to end, would stretch from London to Prague.

While good progress, there is much more to do WRAP warns – across the whole food chain. The report shows that UK households still waste 4.5 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten, worth £14 billion every year (£700 for an average family with children). The volume of food still wasted equates to ten billion meals.  A reduction of 4% in the supply chain also shows good overall progress from businesses, but WRAP says many more businesses need to step up their action on food waste to help halve global food waste by 2030.

The significant decrease in household food waste can be attributed to a range of factors including heightened public awareness through WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, clearer labelling on food packaging, and more local authorities offering residents separate food waste collections in line with WRAP’s Framework for More Consistent Collections - helping to raise awareness within the home.

Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO, “We are in a new decade and have just ten years if we are to honour our international commitment to halve food waste. This really matters because it is untenable that we carry on wasting food on such a monumental scale when we are seeing the visible effects of climate change every day, and when nearly a billion people go hungry every day.

“This great news announced today means we are starting to wake up to the reality of food waste, but we are too often turning a blind eye to what is happening in our homes. We are all thinking about what we can do for the environment and this is one of the most simple and powerful ways we can play our part. By wasting less food, we are helping to tackle the biggest challenges this century – feeding the world whilst protecting our planet.”

However, while the most significant drop in household food waste since 2010, WRAP’s latest annual citizen survey – also released today -  found that despite more of the public being aware of the issue of food waste, less than half of the population (39 per cent ) connect wasting food at home with the impact this has on the environment. Based on self-reported estimates for the most commonly wasted foods (potatoes, bread, chicken and milk) it appears around one in three people would still be classified as being high food wasters.

While the UK is a global leader in tackling food waste and supporting international food waste prevention projects, WRAP wants the UK to go further, faster. The organisation will continue to work closely with governments, businesses and citizens to address this throughout 2020; including the launch of a bold and far-reaching public campaign to ignite a national food conversation and complement the work of Love Food Hate Waste. 

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Each year, tonnes of good-quality, nutritious food needlessly goes to waste, harming our environment and climate. As a world-leader in the fight against food waste, it is good news that we are making a real difference. 

“But while this is encouraging, there is more to be done – and I urge all households, individuals and businesses to consider how they can reduce their own food waste footprint to create a better world for generations to come.”

Government Food Waste Champion Ben Elliot said: “These new statistics are extremely encouraging and demonstrate a big step in the right direction. However, we must still keep marching – more needs to be done, across every business and every household, if we are to hit the milestone targets set out in the Courtauld Commitment 2025 report.”

Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “In reducing our impact on the planet, food waste is an area where all citizens and organisations can make a difference. We are making significant progress in Scotland and our latest Programme for Government sets out further measures for action on food waste this year, together with our Circular Economy Bill, which will help tackle our throw-away culture still further.”

“I appreciate the work that the Courtauld 2025 signatories and WRAP are undertaking to tackle food waste and the pivotal role they have in bringing us together – across governments, manufacturers and retailers - –  to share knowledge, outcomes, experience and successes.”

Hannah Blythyn, Deputy Welsh Minister for Housing and Local Government said: “We know how important it is to tackle food waste and we are one of the few nations in the world to have universal, weekly household food waste collections – which this research shows can also help to reduce food waste. But we need to encourage more people to separate their waste effectively. Businesses and public bodies will soon be required to separate their waste too, just as households already do, helping to further reduce food waste.

“Our ongoing support of Fare Share Cymru has helped redistribute surplus food from the supply chain and they have distributed the equivalent of more than eight million meals since 2011, saving more than 3,000 tonnes of food from landfill. Last month I launched a major consultation on a new circular economy strategy for Wales, which will build on the successes of the last 20 years and which sets out the steps we can take to avoid waste and keep resources in use for as long as possible.”


Notes to Editor

  • Household food waste (food and inedible parts) now totals 6.6 million tonnes - down from 7.1 million tonnes in 2015. 
  • Total UK food waste now measures 9.5 million tonnes (household and supply chain, 2018) down from 10 million tonnes in 2015 (and 1.7 million tonnes a year lower than in 2007). The GHG associated with total UK food waste is around 25 million tonnes CO2e – equivalent to 5% of UK territorial emissions (including some overseas production) and the same as produced by 10 million cars, a third of all cars on UK roads in 2018. The land required to produce the food we waste would be equivalent to an area larger than Wales. 
  • Action by Courtauld 2025 signatories has helped reduce the amount in the supply chain by 4% per capita over the period 2015/18, with the supply chain contributing around 30% to the UK total, at 2.9 million tonnes. 
  • Food manufacturers reduced their sector waste by around 10% saving more than 160,000 tonnes and £190 million. Retail food waste rose slightly to 277,000 tonnes (2018) from 260,000 three years earlier. At less than 1% of sales it remains the lowest rate and makes up 3% of the total. The increase may be linked to efforts to help suppliers and customers cut food waste. These can, in the short-term, increase food waste in depots and stores through practices like relaxing specifications on fresh produce, and providing more loose fresh produce having led to operational challenges. Hospitality & Food Service Sector food waste is just under 1.1 million tonnes. More data is needed to quantify change robustly for this sector, and WRAP is building momentum through its Guardians of Grub campaign, with more businesses beginning to measure food waste. 
  • The introduction of a common set of principles for food waste measurement, as outlined in the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap (produced by WRAP and IGD) has been significant too. All of the major grocery retailers have committed to the Roadmap, together with 117 producers/manufacturers, 24 HaFS businesses and 29 other organisations (trade bodies, those involved in redistribution etc.). The combined turnover of these 156 businesses is over £230bn, representing more than 50% of the overall turnover for UK food manufacture, retail and HaFS. The first 26 businesses to report year-on-year data are collectively showing a reduction in food waste of 7%, saving around £100m of food or 57,000 tonnes. 
  • Producing food requires significant natural resources including land, water and energy. On a global scale the food system generates between 25%-30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and the agricultural supply chains uses 70% of global freshwater reserves. A third of all food produced is lost or wasted, which the IPCC estimates contributes up to 10% to total man-made (anthropogenic) GHG emissions. If it were a country, food waste would be the world’s third largest emitter after China and the USA. 
  • The UK’s most wasted food item is the potato. The average tuber needs 15 litres of water to grow and 4.4 million potatoes are wasted every day. That’s 714,000 tonnes annually, with a carbon footprint of 326,000 tCO2e.
  • WRAP is a not for profit organisation founded in 2000 which works with governments, businesses and citizens to create a world in which we source and use resources sustainably. Our impact spans the entire life-cycle of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products we buy, from production to consumption and beyond. 
  • For further information – to request interviews contact Ian Palmer, WRAP tel. 01295 819 677 and visit @WRAP_UK for more information.