Food Waste, by the numbers

A look at the scale of society's food waste problem, where it comes from, and some suggestions of where the blame really lies

Feature by Peter Simpson | 05 Dec 2019
  • Waste Food

Waste is bad. It’s a realisation that we collectively seem to have made (or re-made) this year, although it’s maybe taken a bit longer than you might hope. But while much of the food waste conversation is around cuddly stuff like ‘reusing your lentil jar’ and ‘flogging your housemate with a bamboo cane when they use the wrong recycling bin’, solving this problem is bigger than any one of us. It’s best explained, therefore, through some very big numbers.

That’s where food waste would sit on the leaderboard of greenhouse-gas emitters, if it were its own country. What would a country made entirely from waste food look like? Who knows – maybe a bit like one of those horrifying trash islands in the Pacific, but with more banana peel – but it's a terrifying stat nonetheless.

A quarter of a tonne
That’s how much food waste each of Scotland’s 2.46 million households throws away every year. The grand total for the country – 600,000 tonnes. 

33 percent
The Scottish Government has set a target of reducing Scotland’s food waste by a third by 2025. There’s a ban on sending food waste to landfill that should be in place by 2021, and a range of other ideas on how to reduce the damage caused by waste scran.

130 kilograms
That’s how much single-use plastic packaging that the average Scottish household buys every year, according to Zero Waste Scotland. ZWS have calculated that all of that plastic makes up around 7% of your shopping bill, and the great part is that it’s waste you have no real control over. If you go to the shop, and the shopkeeper has wrapped everything in plastic like they're running some kind of weird Twin Peaks homage, there’s not a lot you can do.

50 million tonnes
A study by the GeoSciences school at the University of Edinburgh found that more than 50 million tonnes of edible fruit and veg are grown across Europe every year – and then thrown away. Sometimes it’s because produce is the wrong shape, and sometimes it’s down to the exacting standards of supermarkets, but either way this is edible food that is being grown only to be immediately chucked away. That seems... not good.

92 percent
In a 2018 poll by consultancy firm Newton, 92% of shoppers said they believe it’s up to the supermarkets to reduce the food waste created by our modern consumer society. Makes sense, as they’re the ones selling us tomatoes six-at-a-time.

57.6 percent
That’s the percentage of the UK grocery market controlled by three companies – Asda, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco. Those three companies sell well over half of all the groceries sold in the whole country – throw in Morrisons, Lidl and Aldi and you’re nearer 80%. Zero-waste shops are great if you live near one and can afford to shop there, but the fact is that many people don’t or can’t. They’re off to their local supermarket, and coming home with more food than they really need, packaged in unhelpful configurations, as well as a shitload of not-free plastic tubs. If anyone should be getting a bollocking about wasted food, it’s your friendly local corporate grocery behemoth.