UK wastes the most food in Europe

The UK is the worst-performing country in Europe when it comes to food waste, throwing away almost 6kg of food per household every week.

A new study published on Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that Europe as a whole wastes 22m tonnes of food a year.

But the UK was the worst offender, wasting the equivalent in weight of one can of beans per person, every single day. Romania was the most efficient country, but still threw out the equivalent of an apple per person per day.

The study found that 16% of all food that reached consumers was thrown away, with the vast majority of this waste being avoidable.

“Theoretically, zero avoidable food waste is a possibility for EU consumers,” said lead researcher Davy Vanham.

“This would not only save a lot of money for the consumers themselves, but also for local authorities, which have to pay for food-waste collection and treatment.

“In addition, this would not only save a large volume of water and avoid losses of reactive nitrogen, but it would also preserve other natural resources such as phosphorus, land and energy.”

Waste not want not

The team analysed six of the 28 EU member states – the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Romania – between 1996–2005.

The most commonly wasted foods were fruit, vegetables and cereals. “A major reason for this is that they have a relatively short shelf-life which means consumers often do not use them in time,” said the report.

“Another reason is the fact that they are generally cheaper per weight unit as compared to other product groups like meat. Therefore consumers often tend to overpurchase the former.”

However the study found that wasted meat was responsible for the most wasted resources, followed by cereals. Previous studies have found the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined.

Red meat is the worst offender, with beef and lamb having about five times more climate impact than pork and poultry.


The fight against food waste has come primarily from supermarkets thus far, with companies like Tesco running schemes to hand out tonnes of surplus food to charities at the end of each day. A petition calling for Britain to follow France and force supermarkets to hand over extra food to charities garnered 184,000 signatures.

However, recent analysis revealed that just 1.3% of all food waste comes from the supermarkets themselves, with around half lost on farms and in the supply chain, with a similar amount thrown away in the home. 

Campaigns like WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste have seen some initial success, but the figures show that much still needs to be done.

Brad Allen

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