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4 Compelling Reasons to Recycle Food Waste

Across the developed world a great deal of us takes our food supply for granted. We have ample choice, supermarkets shelves are stocked full and a simple click later we’ll receive whatever our budget can afford delivered to our homes the next day. Given that we all will recognize at some point food needlessly going into the bin, why should we recycle food waste?

Convenience, our throwaway culture, and many a retail trick all contribute to us regularly purchasing more food than we need. As a result, we throw away vast amounts of food, around 1.3 billion tonnes annually.

In measure, households, supermarkets, suppliers, and manufacturers all share some of the responsibility. It’s easy to see given the numbers why food waste is a global problem.

Today, many food waste initiatives exist to help us find a useful means to recycle the food we don’t use or need5. These include council schemes, food banks, and even apps that provide opportunities to gift unused food to our neighbors.

The Food Waste Numbers Speak for Themselves

How many times have you thrown away bananas when a little brown? All that food waste adds up. Recycling food waste helps prevent a number of environmental harms. Or in the case of that brown banana throw it in the freezer and use it later in a smoothie or to make muffins. Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Whether it is the UK, the USA, or China, too many people are carelessly tossing food waste into the bin. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) 2015 Report clearly indicates what is happening.

In 2015, in the UK alone, we threw away £13 billion worth of food while household food waste totaled 7.3 million tonnes. However, what is alarming is that 4.4 million tonnes of that was completely avoidable and 60% of it could have been eaten.

Further, in recent years, more people have become aware of the problems food waste causes. Much of this has been driven by the media and even celebrity chefs and so, more is being done to reduce and recycle food waste and raise awareness.

The stats are alarming yet improvements are happening. Between 2007 and 2012, household food waste saw a drop of 15%. Along with this, there was a 21% drop in avoidable food waste.

What is disappointing is that the food industry did not make the same strides1. Between 2012 and 2015, it failed to reduce food waste by the 5% it had committed to.

Check our list of more food waste facts here.

4 Reasons to Recycle Food Waste

We all need to do our bit to reduce, reuse and recycle. Many of us will be actively avoiding single-use plastic and ensuring we sort packaging waste into the recycling bin. Meanwhile, we shouldn’t neglect food waste. Or take our food for granted4 Therefore, here are some of the main reasons why we should recycle food waste.

Donated Food Waste
Food is not meant to be wasted. If you have unwanted food at home consider donating it to those that might make use of it. Photo Credit Chris Hunkler on Flickr with a trolley of dry food on the way to Ronald McDonald House in San Diego (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

1. It Makes Economic Sense

Food waste costs a lot of money. It costs producers, manufacturers, and consumers to throw food away.

Between 2007 and 2012, there was a reduction in food waste in the UK. This saved households a total of £6.5 billion. While there were also savings when it comes to food waste disposal to the tune of £86 million.

Of course at the risk of stating the obvious, if we buy less food we end up wasting or throwing away, we spend less cash needlessly.

2. Food Waste Impacts the Environment

We are facing a global catastrophe in the form of global warming. Food waste is a significant contributor to the problem3. Simply put, many climate changes contributing resources go into the production of food that gets wasted.

You just have to stop and think about the energy required to manufacture, transport, retail, and then dispose of food waste. Of course, a decent percentage of this energy will likely require the burning of fossil fuels.

However, in the UK, between 2007 and 2012, we produced 3.4 million tonnes less greenhouse gas as a result of better food waste management. To put this into perspective, it equates to taking 1.4 million cars off the road.

Further, it is a misconception that food simply disappears when we place it in landfills. The truth is that discarded food produces methane2.

So, the more food we waste, the more methane we produce. This means more harmful greenhouse gases. Therefore, we should aim to recycle food waste. And even better only purchase what we need.

3. We Can Conserve Energy and Resources

Food Waste Consumes Resources
Much of our food is produced using a vast array of resources. From refrigeration, transport to retail. Avoiding wasted food helps prevent the use of unnecessary resources. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr. Public Domain.

A lot of energy is consumed harvesting, manufacturing, and processed food that doesn’t get eaten. Whether this is placing it in a landfill or turning it into fuel or products. However, when we recycle food correctly, it can help us to reduce waste correctly. What’s more, if we also reduce the amount of food we purchase, this too will have a positive impact.

If we recycle food that would have usually gone to waste, such as food that is misshaped or damaged, then we can reduce demand. This means that fewer resources are required.

4. It Can Become Energy and Fertiliser

Food waste does not have to go to landfills. In fact, we can recycle food waste so it becomes energy or fertilizer.

The industrial process of recycling food waste into energy or fertilizer involves placing it in an anaerobic digester. Here micro-organisms break down the food without the need for oxygen. This then creates biogas, which is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. We can then use this to generate heat, transport fuels, or electricity. It is a pure source of renewable energy.

We then have the potential to use the electricity in local homes or feed it back into the national grid. Along with this, the anaerobic digester will also produce a biofertilizer. We can then use this in farming.

All of this prevents food waste from going into landfills. When it does, it breaks down and contributes to climate change. What is alarming is that methane is 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide6.

For consumers, many local councils now collect food waste. Providing you have a local food waste collection you can do your bit by making sure those used coffee grounds, vegetable peels, and scraps make their way into the food waste recycling bin.

Or where collections don’t exist home composting provides a similar opportunity to recycle food waste. If you have space buy an outdoor compost and in time all those food scraps will soon become fertilizer for your garden.

Food Waste Recycling Bin
Many local authorities and councils now provide separate bins for food waste and even helpful caddies to make sure your feed waste finds its way from the kitchen into the recycling. Photo Credit: Smabs Sputzer on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Can Government Initiatives Improve Food Waste Recycling?

In the UK, the government has awarded £4 million to several redistribution organizations. The aim is to prevent the problem and get more food on people’s tables.

The UK Environment Minister commented:

“Food waste is unnecessary and morally unforgivable. We must end it, and our £15 million fund is a true game-changer in making that happen.

I am thrilled that this first round of funding will allow these terrific projects to redistribute even more perfectly good food, making sure it ends up where it belongs - on people’s plates and stomachs.”

The four redistribution companies will take surplus food from manufacturers and retailers in an attempt and look to recycling opportunities to prevent it from going to waste. They will use several solutions including creating new supply routes to funding new lines and increasing staff levels to tackle the problem.

A subsequent funding round is likely. The aim will be to enhance infrastructure in an attempt to take the 100,000 tonnes of food waste that is edible and make it available for use.

Alongside these newer initiatives, many local authorities have worked to educate people as to the reasons to recycle food waste and implemented roadside collections. Each initiative helps improve food waste recycling.

Reducing the Problem at Source

The truth is that many of us are probably guilty of purchasing too much food. We pack our cupboard full of tins and jars while our fridges are full of many other products. With this in mind, perhaps now is the time for us to become more mindful of where we can reduce wasted food.

Simply checking our fridges and cupboards before we head to the supermarket and only buying what we need can make a big difference. Education can also play a big role. This means that we need to understand the difference between the ‘best before date’ and ‘use by date’. The two cause confusion and result in a lot of unnecessary waste

The convenience of pre-packaged goods means that we purchase more than we need. We also need to change our mindsets when we enter the supermarket. Along with this, better meal planning can help too. You can also check out our 9 tips to waste less food at home.

Thankfully, our combined efforts are making a difference and showing the way. All the same, too much food still finds its way to the bin, and with this comes a range of problems such as global warming and wasted money. The truth is, food is not a luxury, it is a necessity and we should not waste it needlessly.

1Guillermo Garcia-Garcia, Jamie Stone, Shahin Rahimifard, Opportunities for waste valorisation in the food industry – A case study with four UK food manufacturers, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 211, 2019, Pages 1339-1356, ISSN 0959-6526, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.11.269
2Yu-Sheng Wang, William S. Odle, III, William E. Eleazer, Morton A. Barlaz, METHANE POTENTIAL OF FOOD WASTE AND ANAEROBIC TOXICITY OF LEACHATE PRODUCED DURING FOOD WASTE DECOMPOSITION, Waste Management & Research, Volume 15, Issue 2, 1997, Pages 149-167, ISSN 0734- 242X, https://doi.org/10.1006/wmre.1996.0073
3Boldrin, A., Andersen, J. K., Møller, J., Christensen, T. H., & Favoino, E. (2009). Composting and compost utilization: accounting of greenhouse gases and global warming contributions. Waste Management & Research, 27(8), 800–812. https://doi.org/10.1177/0734242X09345275
4Bloom, L.Z. (2011). Feeding Hunger: Three Things I Take for Granted about Food—and Shouldn’t. symploke 19(1), 159-171. https://www.muse.jhu.edu/article/463491.
5Aschemann-Witzel, J.; De Hooge, I.; Amani, P.; Bech-Larsen, T.; Oostindjer, M. Consumer-Related Food Waste: Causes and Potential for Action. Sustainability 2015, 7, 6457-6477.
6Mohajan, Haradhan (2011): Dangerous effects of methane gas in atmosphere. Published in: International Journal of Economic and Political Integration , Vol. 1, No. 2 (30 June 2012): pp. 3-10.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Main Photo @raulcachophoto on Unsplash
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