Pizza wasting away of a white plate.

Understanding The Impact Of Food Waste On The Environment

February 14, 2024

In 2019, 40% of food waste in the UK ended up in landfill. Now, 5 years on, it’s only getting worse.

With a major push on tackling this issue across the country for both businesses and households, this blog will act like your food waste guide as we delve into understanding the impact of food waste on the environment.

Later on, we’ll also cover what we’re doing to fix the food waste issue and how we can help you do the same.

When did food waste become a problem?

Tackling food waste is a hot topic at the minute. But how did we get to this point? The cause of food waste can’t be attributed to any one thing. Food waste has been a growing issue, and the advantage is we’re able to see direct causes today.

1. Industrialisation

The industrial revolution in the UK (1760 – 1840) was all about automating processes, moving goods made by hand straight to machine production. Although this improved the efficiency of food production and created a multitude of jobs that didn’t exist before, food production became more standardised and led to increased food surplus, ultimately leading to food waste.

2. Food Retail Stores

To meet consumer demand, food retailers often overstock on food. With some foods being left behind with expiry dates, food waste is almost inevitable. Without proper waste management processes in place, this same food can end up in landfill.

3. Consumer Behaviour

Consumer behaviours are always changing, impacting the way purchasing decisions are made. Bulk buying food is often common practice in food retail stores, especially where deals and discounts are available. According to WRAP, about 4.5 million tonnes of food is wasted every year from our homes, likely a direct link between people bulk buying food and having more than they can consume before the food expires.

Fruit and vegetables on shelves at a food shop.
Fruit and vegetables on shelves at a food shop.

How food waste affects the environment

Unfortunately, there are many ways food waste affects the environment. Some may even take you by surprise.

1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Food that is left to rot in landfills produces methane. This type of gas is potent and can negatively affect air quality – it reduces the amount of oxygen in the air and is 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. It’s also a leading cause of global warming. It’s recorded that food waste is responsible for about 6% of total global emissions, clearly indicating that it is a global issue and not just country-specific.

Does that mean food waste contributes to climate change?

Yes, food waste does contribute to climate change.

Since food that is left to rot in landfill produces methane, this contributes to the rise in global temperatures. This ultimately affects how the weather behaves by developing abnormal weather and temperature patterns. In extreme cases, it can lead to natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis, things there certainly hasn’t been a shortage of in the last decade.

2. Deforestation

There’s a strong correlation between food waste and deforestation. About 70% – 80% of worldwide deforestation is caused by agriculture.

When large quantities of food are wasted, this puts a demand on agriculture to produce more food. And to produce more food, more deforestation takes place. It’s a constant loop of environmental damage that’s reportedly getting worse – global deforestation in 2022 increased to 6.6 hectares, a growth from the estimated 5.4 hectares by the end of that year.

It begs the question: unless something changes, what will our forests look like by 2040, when the global population is predicted to be at 9.4 billion?

3. Water pollution & consumption

Water is essential for food growth. That’s why agriculture is so heavily dependent on it.

It’s estimated that each year, we use 3.8tn cubic metres of water – 70% of this is used for agriculture. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of water. That’s also a lot of water to waste on food that is grown but not consumed. We currently estimate that half of the water that’s used for agriculture is wasted.

What’s more, when food waste is thrown into landfill, the decomposition process produces a potentially dangerous liquid called leachate made up of organic compounds, heavy metals and pathogens. This liquid can sometimes find its way into soil and water, contaminating and polluting water sources.

4. Wasting energy

Energy and food production go hand-in-hand. Fuel is needed to power vehicles like tractors and transport trucks, and electricity is required for food production and maintenance in appropriate facilities.

For all the food that is wasted, the energy that’s been used to produce the food has also been wasted. And when we think about heavy duty machinery like tractors that emit carbon dioxide to the air, it’s another issue directly impacting the environment.

Waste in landfill.
Waste in landfill.

It can be hard to believe that something as simple as food waste can have such an impact on the environment, but the studies are there and the impact is clear. So what can be done to tackle the issue?

How the UK is tackling food waste

Although the impacts of food waste on the environment is a cause for concern, systems are in place in the UK alone to help address the issue of food waste.

1. Charity work

Well-known, British-based charities like WRAP have been fighting the cause since 2000. Now operating in over 40 countries, WRAP (also known as Waste & Resources Action Programme) works with businesses, communities and individuals to reduce food waste. WRAP works with the likes of food retailers and food services, to hospitality and manufacturing sectors to handle surplus food redistribution. As well as farmers and growers to address and prevent food waste during its primary production.

2. The 2021 Environment Act

Under this recent legislation, the 2021 Environment Act means it is now prohibited to throw food into general waste bins to prevent them going to landfill. Now, food waste has to be collected separately in food waste-specific bins. The objective of this decision is to halve food waste by 2030.

3. Waste management & litter bin manufacturing companies

Waste management and litter bin manufacturing companies are well aware of the efforts to combat food waste in the country. And here at Wybone, we have a range of food waste bins that not only allow you to adhere to the 2021 Environment Act, but allow communities, businesses, local authorities and educational premises to do their part in tackling food waste.

A litter bin being manufactured.
A litter bin being manufactured.

How Wybone are helping to reduce food waste

Since 1969 we’ve been on the waste management map, manufacturing high-quality, reliable and (above all else!) tough litter bins for local authorities and private businesses. With our passion and expertise, we’ve always been aware of the dangers and issues of food waste. And we provide the right products for our customers to do their part.

Wheelie Bin Covers

Wheelie bin covers are a sure-fire way of keeping wheelie bins out of sight in public areas. Wheelie bins are able to hold large volumes of waste, perfect for outdoor areas with high footfall like outside restaurants and shopping centres. Having wheelie bins with unpleasant odours can be unavoidable, and wheelie bin covers allow you to mask this with stylish designs and artwork that signifies what type of waste can go into the bin. This means you can advertise food waste-only wheelie bin covers, as seen on our Artemis Wheelie Bin Cover below.

Artemis Food Waste Bin with a food waste only sticker.
The Artemis Food Waste Bin with a green and red food waste only sticker on the front.

We have a range of wheelie bin covers made from galvanised steel, wooden slats and glass fibre composite. Our popular Food Waste Wheelie Bin Cover (FWWB) is designed specifically for the collection of food waste only.

The Food Waste Wheelie Bin is manufactured using galvanised steel and is available in 140 litres and 240 litres and is purpose-made for communal use in housing areas. These units come with a lift-up flap and a new, optional foot pedal. The handle on the flap is made from stainless steel with an anti-bacterial coating. A gas strut is fitted to the lid to make it soft-closing.

We’re currently providing 100 Food Waste Bins to Westminster City Council as part of a large, ongoing order that began in 2019. We produced and provided 455 units to Westminster City Council in 2022 alone, and each bin comes with a qr code that directs the public to find out more about food waste recycling services in the city.

The Food Waste Wheelie Bin for Westminster Council

Bin Hubs

In November 2022, our northern sales manager, Ben, had initial discussions with John Hughes, project manager for Glasgow City Council. The council were keen to improve waste management in the city, and we’ve been working with the council to provide over 100 bin hubs to tenements across the area.

Each bin hub has its own waste compartment for general waste, paper, and food waste, encouraging the public to correctly dispose of their litter. This exciting 5-year contract will see us helping to bring change to the city, including addressing the issue of food waste. You can read the full story here.

Interested in finding out more about these bin hubs? You can contact our lovely sales team by emailing [email protected] or by calling 01226 744010.

Glasgow Bin Hubs showing four different waste compartments on a street in Glasgow.
Glasgow Bin Hubs

Rounding things off

In summary, there are plenty of ways that food waste affects the environment. The good news is, there are processes in place to help fix the issue, from charity organisations to waste management legislations.

And at Wybone, we may not be able to eradicate the issue entirely. But we are working hard to make a difference. One bin at a time.

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