The study, which was published today (May 14) in the journal Nature Climate Change, highlighted the environmental impact of inefficient farming and the aggressive marketing of supermarket food.
“We looked at five foodstuffs,” says Dr David Reay at Edinburgh University, who worked on the study with Dr Pete Smith of Aberdeen University. “Milk stands out because there’s a high level of avoidable wastage. It has a high nitrous oxide penalty because of the manure used in crop production for feedstocks. It’s the perfect storm of high intensity of emissions and high levels of avoidable wastage.”
Almost half of this is a result of too much being served, with the rest discarded for being sour or past its sell-by date.
As the population continues to increase, more food needs to be produced, which means greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise unless some change is made, said Reay. His studies were based on figures taken from a report by the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK, which was published in 2009.
“About 30 per cent of food is wasted globally and in the UK,” said Reay. “If we can tackle this, it would be like taking about 20M cars off the road permanently.”
Despite consumers being largely responsible for the waste, Reay insisted that there was work that the food manufacturing industry could do to help.
“The key thing for food manufacturers is to build on the progress they’ve already made in terms of working with suppliers and producers to make the supply chain even more efficient and producing informative packaging in terms of the safe life time.”
But the real culprits were the retailers. Reay claimed consumers were buying too much food via promotions such as Buy One Get One Free. Buying more food than they could consume is an issue that could be handled by using public agencies such as WRAP and the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
When asked if putting money behind raising awareness was rather ambitious in such times of austerity, he remained optimistic that supermarkets would take some responsibility.
“We’ve got a tight government purse but we’ve also got to increase efficiency,” said Reay. “If we can make the supply chain more efficient then that’s good for everyone.
“The best way is to encourage people to buy what they need, so it’s really at that purchase point that we need to get back to the stage where we used to be: the mentality of buying what you need. As a consumer myself, I don’t like going to the supermarket and being bombarded with offers.
“The responsibility is on the retailers to look at this - do they want to boost their environmental credentials? The industry has shown that it can address this kind of issue: look at Marks & Spencer and Plan A, for example.”