How do Tesco's food waste figures compare internationally?

Tesco wastes 30,000 tonnes of food in six months, but how does the UK compare with other countries on food waste?

The number of people using food banks in the UK has tripled in the past year, and household budgets are shrinking as wages struggle to keep up with inflation, and yet in the last six months Tesco’s stores and distribution centres contributed 30,000 tonnes of food waste. New figures revealed by the supermarket show that 68 per cent of pre-packed salad is wasted (35 per cent of which is wasted in the home), as are a fifth of bananas, and 40 per cent of all apples bought. Food waste is costing families around ₤700 a year, the study argued.

According to government figures, food waste costs the UK economy ₤12bn a year, while a report released by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has found that around 30 per cent of the food produced in the UK doesn’t reach supermarkets, mainly for cosmetic reasons  - which isn’t covered by Tesco’s figures. Once we purchase food, consumers throw between 30-50 per cent of their food away.

All of this means the UK is high on the list of the worst-offenders on food waste, but even in less wealthy countries, food waste is shockingly high. A study by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) released earlier this year estimated that globally, around 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted. Per capita, between 280-300kg of food is wasted every year in Europe and North Africa, while around 150kg of food is wasted per capita in Sub Saharan Africa every year (although only 6kg of this is wasted by consumers.)

This isn’t just senseless in a world where 842 million people go hungry, according to the World Food Programme, it is also contributing to climate change. Food wastage is the third largest carbon emitter globally, after the US and China, and the amount of water wasted annually is the equivalent of three times lake Geneva.

In poorer countries, a greater proportion of food is wasted downstream in the supply chain, because of inefficiencies in getting food to markets and storing food, while in wealthier countries like the UK a greater proportion of food is wasted by consumers.

There is a small upshot to these fairly damning statistics – if food waste can be tackled effectively, this means that many of the world’s hungry can be fed without further land clearances or more intensive agriculture. The FAO have said that even if we are only able to reduce ¼ of global food waste, this will be enough to feed the world’s hungry. 

In low-income countries, more work needs to be done to improve farmer’s access to markets, and to increase producers’ and consumers’ abilities to preserve food. In high-income countries, like the UK, WRAP recommends that supermarkets offer a range of pack sizes, as well as clear use-by dates and guidance on freezing and storing food. Consumers, similarly, need to learn to embrace leftovers, and plan their food consumption better to avoid uneaten vegetables and fresh meat perishing at the back of the fridge – we’ll feel financially better for it. And we should probably just give those bags of salad a miss.
 

Food waste is costing families ₤700 a year. Photo:Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump's threats give North Korea every reason it needs to keep nuclear weapons

The US president's warning that he may “totally destroy” the country is a gift to Kim Jong-un's regime. 

Even by Donald Trump's undiplomatic standards, his speech at the UN general assembly was remarkably reckless. To gasps from his audience, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it persisted with its threats and branded Kim Jong-un "rocket man". In an apparent resurrection of George W Bush's "axis of evil", the US president also declared: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph". 

For North Korea, Trump's words merely provide further justification for its nuclear weapons programme. Though the regime is typically depicted as crazed (and in some respects it is), its nuclear project rests on rational foundations. For Kim, the lesson from the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was that tyrants pay a price for relinquishing their arms. The persistent threats from the US strengthen the regime's domestic position and reinforce a siege mentality. Though North Korea must be deterred from a pre-emptive strike, it must also be offered incentives to pursue a different path. 

As Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked last month: "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel. We are not your enemy... but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."

The present nadir reflects the failures of the past. In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear programme in return for economic and diplomatic concessions. A communique declared that neither state had "hostile intent" towards the other. But this progress was undone by the Bush administration, which branded North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and refused to renew the communique.

The subsequent six-party talks (also including China, Russia South Korea and Japan) were similarly undermined by the US. As Korea expert Mike Chinoy records in the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration provocatively "designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia, where North Korea maintained dozens of accounts, as a 'suspected money-laundering concern.'" When a new agreement was reached in 2007, "Washington hard-liners demanded that Pyongyang accept inspections of its nuclear facilities so intrusive one American official described them a 'national proctologic exam'".

For North Korea, the benefits of nuclear weapons (a "treasured sword of justice" in Kim's words) continue to outweigh the costs. Even the toughened UN sanctions (which will ban one third of the country's $3bn exports) will not deter Pyongyang from this course. As Tillerson recognised, diplomacy may succeed where punishment has failed. But Trump's apocalyptic rhetoric will merely inflate North Korea's self-righteousness. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.