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.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.