The water and carbon footprint of wasted household food in the UK has been identified for the first time, highlighting the major environmental consequences of food waste, both domestically and globally.
The report, ‘The Water and Carbon Footprint of Household Food Waste in the UK’ – jointly published by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and WWF found that water used to produce food that householders in the UK then waste represents 6% of the UK’s water requirements, (6.2 billion cubic metres per year), a quarter of which originates in the UK.
The 6.2 billion cubic metres of water used to produce the 5.3 million tonnes of food that householders waste every year is nearly twice the annual household water usage of the UK.
The same wasted food also represents 3% of the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions (14 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent) with further emissions arising abroad (6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent). In total, these greenhouse gas emissions are the same as those created by 7 million cars each year.
The work follows reports in 2008 and 2009 by WWF and WRAP which identified that UK households throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink waste every year, 60% of which (5.3 million tonnes) could have been eaten. By discarding that food, the water and energy that was used to grow and process those foods is not recovered, giving off greenhouse gas emissions that could have been avoided.
The report also goes on to identify the countries of origin for wasted food and looks at the context of water scarcity in those regions in the shape of case studies.
Liz Goodwin, chief executive of WRAP, says the new findings provide fresh context for the organisation’s work to prevent food waste: “These figures are quite staggering. The water footprint for wasted food – 280 litres per person, per day – is nearly twice the average daily household water use of the UK, 150 litres per person per day.”
She continues: “The greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste are greater than those already saved by the total amount of household recycling that takes place in the UK. Although greenhouse gas emissions have been widely discussed, the water used to produce food and drink has been overlooked until recently. However, growing concern over the availability of water in the UK and abroad, and security of supply of food, means that it is vital we understand the connections between food waste, water and climate change.”
Some progress has already been made. Through WRAP’s work with retailers, food and drink manufacturers and local authorities, 670,000 tonnes of food waste were prevented between 2005 and 2009. That means the waste of 670 billion litres of water has been avoided, but clearly still more needs to be done.
Dr David Tickner, head of Freshwater Programmes at WWF-UK, comments: “Responsibility for improving the way in which water is managed lies primarily with governments and other stakeholders in affected river basins. But companies, policy-makers and consumers in the UK can help. Put simply, wasting less food can, in a small but very significant way, help dry rivers to flow again.”