Identifying the impacts of food waste
In 2018, Nestlé and WRAP published a aimed at changing the focus around food loss and waste from tonnes of consumer food waste to nutrients lost and the environmental impact. We analyzed data from the UK, which has the most detailed, directly measured data for domestic food waste, including the exact types of food. This enables the nutrients in the waste to be calculated, as well as the effect on the environment.
Our analysis showed that 42 daily diets were discarded per capita per year, with the most wasted nutrients being vitamin B (160 days lost per capita per year), vitamin C (140 days) and thiamin (130 days). Substantial losses for under-consumed nutrients in the UK were also found, especially calcium, food folate and fiber. Meanwhile, the greenhouse gases associated with edible household food waste were calculated to be 20.4 million tonnes CO2eq per year – equivalent to 6.7 million standard car journeys of of 10,000 km each. The largest contributors to environmental impacts were wasted meat and fish. There were also impacts on freshwater consumption, nonrenewable resource depletion and biodiversity.
Our research shows that there are areas where interventions preventing food waste and promoting healthy eating could work together. The results can help with developing communication-based interventions on food waste and diet, and could also inform further innovations from food manufacturers, retailers, governments and NGOs, such as supplying recipes, new product ideas for highly wasted foods, packaging and pricing.