EU wastes tonnes of food, and UK is the worst offender

Food waste. [Taz/Flickr].

Food waste. [Taz/Flickr]

The European Union wastes about 22 million tonnes of food a year and Britain wastes the most, according to a study by European Commission-backed researchers. 

The study, published on Wednesday (12 August) in the journal Environmental Research Letters, looked at data from six countries to analyse the water and nitrogen resources lost in the EU through consumer food waste.

It found nearly 80% of all food waste is “avoidable” and Britain is the worst offender, wasting the equivalent of a tin of beans per person every day. Even Romania, where food waste was the lowest, wastes a lot of food – roughly equivalent to an apple a day.

Averaged over all EU citizens, that amounts to 22 million tonnes of food each year, the study said.

The researchers said educating people about how to shop more carefully and plan their consumption would help cut the amount they throw away, lowering food bills and limiting waste’s impact on the environment.

“In some ways it’s good that this waste is ‘avoidable’, because it means we’re able to do something about it,” said Davy Vanham of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, who led the work. “A lot of food is still ‘good’ but is thrown away when it passes its sell-by date.”

Food waste is not a new problem. There is great pressure on the European Commission to present a more ambitious proposal on the circular economy by the end of 2015. Among key measures backed by the European Paliament was a call to reintroduce a legally binding target to cut waste by 30% by 2025 – including food waste. Those measures had been scrapped by the Commission when it withdrew its circular economy package last year in a drive for leaner law-making, causing uproar among environmentalists.

The European Parliament in July urged EU countries to cut down on waste by getting supermarkets to give their unsold food to charities, rather than destroy it.

>>Read: European Parliament urges donation of supermarket leftovers

Under a resolution regarding the “circular economy”, lawmakers in Strasbourg adopted an amendment whereby they “invite the European Commission to encourage the creation, in member-states, of conventions enabling the food retail sector to distribute unsold products to charitable organisations”.

“This is a first step in the fight against food waste in Europe,” said Angelique Delahaye, the French member of European Parliament who proposed the amendment.

>> Read: Commission called to task on circular economy plan

The Joint Research Centre study – which used data from Britain, The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Romania – found vegetables, fruit and cereals accounted for the bulk of the avoidable food waste, partly because they tend to have a shorter shelf life.

But meat also goes to waste, the study found, and that has a greater impact on nitrogen and water resources.

The research team was able to study only six of the 28 EU member states properly because data from the other countries were not as reliable, Vanham said. ‘

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