Sustainable Blog

The US and UK Take on Food Waste

The UK has reduced food waste by 18%. Can we do it here?

Photo Credit: jazzijava via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: jazzijava via Compfight cc

Yesterday, the USDA and EPA jointly launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, an effort to enlist all players in the food system — producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies — to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste.

The new program is the government’s response to recent reports that we waste 40% of our food in the U.S. As part of the new challenge, the USDA will be reducing waste in the school meals program, educating consumers about food waste and food storage, and developing new technologies to reduce food waste. According to the press release, “USDA will also work with industry to increase donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.”

It’s heartening to see our government taking on this important issue. We could learn from the United Kingdom (another big food waster), which has been actively fighting food waste since 2007 with its Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) campaign. Administered by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a UK-based, government-funded nonprofit, the campaign has lowered avoidable household food waste in the UK by 18 percent, reportedly saving consumers in the country £2.5 billion a year on food and drink that would have ended up as waste.1

So what has Love Food Hate Waste been up to that has been making such a difference? They have been working to raise public awareness about food waste, and empowering consumers, businesses and government institutions to prevent food waste through various initiatives and programs.

WRAP and LFHW are prolific in their initiatives and programs. The list below is merely a sample of some of their recent efforts:

  • Love Food Hate Waste has a vast and helpful website that provides recipes, advice on portions and storage, and information about sell by dates.
  • LFHW recently added a free smartphone app that promises to help users “keep track of their budgets by food planning, shopping, [and] making the most of left-overs and recipes while ‘on the go’.”
  • LFHW has produced a series of videos that educate the public on how to keep their food fresh longer, prolonging the sell by date, thereby preventing food waste.
  • WRAP organized the Courtauld Commitment, (now in its third stage) running from 2013-2015. The agreement, with signatories including all major grocery retailers and many household brands and manufacturers, aims to reduce household food and drink waste by 5%; reduce grocery ingredient, product and packaging waste in the grocery supply chain by 3%; and improve packaging recyclability and product protection in order to reduce food waste. The group claims the agreement “could reduce waste by 1.1 million tonnes by 2015, bringing £1.6 billion cost benefits to consumers and industry. The expected 2.9Mt CO2(e) reduction would be the equivalent of permanently taking one million cars off the road.”
  • WRAP organized a Hospitality and Food Service voluntary agreement to cut food and food packaging waste and increase recycling. Over 100 companies, representing 19% of the hospitality and food service sector, had signed the agreement as of October, 2012.

According to Co.Exist and Next Generation Food, 30.8% of all food purchased in the UK is thrown away. In the U.S. that figure is even higher, at 40%. WRAP and LFHW are making great strides in preventing food waste and educating the public about the issue of food waste in the UK, and we hope the USDA and EPA’s efforts can reduce our food waste here in the U.S. as much, if not more. Sustainable America is working to be part of the solution, too. We support innovative solutions and better education about food preservation and expiration dates as tools in the fight against food waste in this country, not to mention composting and other methods of food recycling. Our goal is to cut our nation’s food waste in half by 2035.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.