The latest UK Food Trends Survey shows that self-reported food waste has rebounded to pre-lockdown levels as restrictions lift, and more food is potentially going to waste in UK homes as life returns to normal.
The findings come from Love Food Hate Waste, the campaign delivered by environmental charity WRAP. It provides a snapshot of the UK’s food behaviours post-lockdown from the longest-running survey of its kind.
Less waste in lockdown
Love Food Hate Waste found that during lockdown many more people adopted positive food management behaviours that prevent food from going to waste – initially prompted by concerns about food availability and going out shopping.
Almost four in five people took up an average of 6.7 new food management behaviours, which caused a sharp drop in self-reported food waste during the first lockdown.
Across the four key foods monitored, levels of bread, chicken, milk and potato waste fell from nearly a quarter of all items purchased (November 2019) to 13.7% in April 2020. That was a 43% reduction in food waste.
Levels of waste bounced back slightly in June 2020 but were still 26% lower than in 2019 by the end of 2020.
Food waste and takeouts
The latest survey shows a spike in reported food waste coinciding with lockdown restrictions easing in June/July.
In July food waste was on par with pre-pandemic levels at 19.7%, with three in 10 people once again falling into the category of ‘high food waste’ – up from 20% in April last year.
The survey suggests this rise is due to two overarching factors: firstly, we’re dropping the new habits we adopted as time pressures return.
Of the skills we took up during lockdown, freezing, using up leftovers and batch cooking were reportedly the most useful.
But these same habits are the ones most at risk of being dropped (along with meal-planning) as we become more time poor – which 44% or people report feeling.
Secondly, more people are eating out or buying takeaways, meaning the food we intended to eat at home is replaced by a meal or take-out and can end up going to waste.
Love Food Hate Waste found a significant spike in the number of meals delivered or eaten outside the home corresponding with people reporting wasting more food.
On average, we ate 7.6 takeaways or out-of-home meals in the past month, compared with six in September 2020.
‘One of the few positives of this extraordinary time has been people taking up new habits that prevent food from going to waste. We’ve seen more people getting creative with their cooking; using up ingredients and leftovers.
‘More of us have taken to checking cupboards and fridges before we shop, using our freezers and even batch cooking. And people tell us they have found these habits extremely helpful. But the return of busy lifestyles means we are falling back into our old ways, and that risks these key skills not being used.
‘After the shocking news from the IPCC this month, it is imperative we remember that wasting food feeds climate change and most food waste happens in the home.
‘Preventing food waste is one way we can all reduce the impacts our diets have on the environment, and fight climate change as individuals.’
Head of citizen behaviour change at WRAP