£14 billion UK food mountain gets wasted every year.

April 12, 2011

Hey you. Yeah you. How much food did you throw away yesterday? last week? How about last year? What about just at lunch time today? Well we can tell you how much food you throw away. Not in literal terms. We can’t tell you what you jettison, be it corn fakes or bacon, marmalade or Nutella (breakfast items are perhaps the most throw-able) but according to new figures published by The Local Government Association (http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/articles.aspx?page=articles&ID=217324) every household in Britain throws away the equivalent of £520 per year; a combined bin-toppling total of £14 billion for all of us. A food mountain of gargantuan proportions is propping up the tips of middle England.

So who is to blame? The retailers or the shoppers? It is a difficult one to get to the bottom of. According to Clyde Loaks, environment chief for the association, “Way too much food is being brought into homes [and] retailers need to take a large slice of responsibility“. So there is a big pointing finger aimed pretty unequivocally at the retailers. In addition, the cause of the problem is the BOGOF; the Buy One Get One Free culture. Simply put, the customers are being brainwashed into buying food in a quantity they simply cannot consume and the supermarkets should stop peddling their wares in such fashion and return to single-item offers.

It is true that BOGOF offers are seductive. There is a warped sense of victory in buying 26 yogurts for the price of 13. That the best-before-date is in 3 days and equates to a yogurt to day ratio of over 8-1 is not the point. 4 packs of coffee, 48 bags of walkers crisps, 10 pineapples, 4 packs of fresh pasta, 6 avocados, 6 sachets of rice and 28 oranges. For half price? You would be foolish not to buy it.

In reality the supermarkets do not force people to buy the offers; they are voluntarily gobbled up. They merely put the offers out. 40% of shopping passing under the infa-red price guns at your local store is part of a deal; a  two for one, a multi-pack, a buy 6 get the 7th free.  You can’t blame an airline for people choosing to go on holiday and you can’t blame a supermarket for people buying food. Even if they buy too much.

What is clear, whoever is to blame, is that £14 billion is a lot of carrots. Carrots that could be put to use somewhere other than the local tip. Worldhunger.org estimates that there are 927 million hungry people on Earth; 578 million in Asia and the Pacific and 239 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest scattered around The Caribbean, Latin America and some unfortunate developed countries. Obviously this number is vague and extremely open to counter-numbers and argument, it can’t be totally accurate as no-one really knows. Even the definition of hunger itself is wide. The Oxford dictionary cites 3 definitions:

  • the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food; craving appetite. Also the exhausted condition caused by want of food
  • the want or scarcity of food in a country
  • a strong desire or craving

WorldHunger.org uses the second definition.

What needs to be done is a re-distribution of food. If the UK is throwing away £14 billion of food every year, then what about the rest of the world? What about America? The mind recoils at the very idea of it. Would there be enough to feed the world in a Band-Aid style? Citing WorldHunger.org, the global food production is substantial enough to supply 2720 kilocalories (kcal) per day to every man, woman and child on the planet. For all of the food that is thrown away as people go hungry, we take the blame. Lets start a revolution. Don’t throw food away. Eat it. Or don’t buy it in the first place.

The supermarkets are not to blame, we are all to blame.

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