Date labels cost UK ‘billions’ in food waste

An estimated two million tonnes of avoidable household food waste was produced in the UK in 2012 as it could not be used in time by consumers, according to a report by WRAP.

And, almost half of this food waste – mainly vegetables, salad and dairy products – was thrown away unopened or still in its packaging.

The statistics were published in a report by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) which presents additional analysis of data quantifying the amount of food waste produced in 2012 and the reasons why householders may have thrown it away.

Of the 4.2 million tonnes of avoidable food waste generated in 2012, 48% was cited by consumers as “not being used in time”.

Date labels were cited by consumers as a primary trigger for this two million tonnes of waste, with 660,000 tonnes of predominantly yoghurts, eggs and fruit juice products destined for the kitchen bin as a result of expiry.

Meanwhile, 32% of all avoidable food waste was generated because of the look or smell of food which was mainly associated with fresh fruit, vegetables and salad, bakery goods and milk.

In addition, some 1.3 million tonnes of avoidable food waste was generated by a surplus in the amount cooked, prepared or served by consumers.

Drinks contributed the most to this total, followed by meals, fresh vegetables and salads.

While significant progress has been made under WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment to clarify date labels and storage guidance – these fresh insights show the prevailing attitude towards food waste is costing consumers around £2.4 billion a year.

However, the WRAP report does highlight household food waste in the UK dropped by 21% between 2007 and 2012, and goes on to recommend several measures in order to reduce it further.

The report recommends that the supply chain should:

Ensure packaging design and storage guidance help consumers keep food fresher for longer and build upon the work of Love Food Hate Waste’s Fresher for Longer initiative;
Maximise the length of shelf life and use a “best before” date on perishable foods, where possible;
Accelerate the roll out and increase public awareness of the “freeze before date mark” label (replacing ‘freeze on day of purchase’).

It notes that while food safety and quality is a ‘prime concern’, WRAP has identified changes that can be made to product life that do not jeopardise the consumer.

The dairy sector is one example where a change from “use by” to “best before” for most hard cheeses could be applied to suitable yoghurts, almost half of which are discarded unopened and cost the UK £130million each year.

“A significant amount of work has already been undertaken by the sector to introduce innovative approaches to keep food fresher for longer but with 4.2 million tonnes of edible food thrown away each year from the home, more needs to be done,” said David Moon, head of food sustainability at WRAP.

“These valuable insights will enable the food industry to target their interventions in the areas that will deliver the greatest reduction in food waste and save consumers money.”

The report has been published to coincide with Love Food Hate Waste’s 10 Cities campaign in partnership with local authorities and retailers, which encourages people to “get thinking” about what they waste.




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