Cut back on food wastage

Updated: 2013-02-06 09:21

(China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

The United Kingdom

Food waste is a huge problem in the UK, where abundant availability has led to consumers not appreciating the value of food as much as previous generations, when times were harder and food much scarcer.

Private households are responsible for almost 50 percent of the food thrown away in the UK every year. UK families discard 7.2 million metric tons of food and drink annually, costing the average household 480 pounds ($756) a year and rising to 680 pounds for families with children, the equivalent of around 50 pounds a month, according to the website Love Food, Hate Waste, in November 2011. The website is affiliated with the nonprofit Waste and Resources Action Programme, which has government funding from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Graham Jukes, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, a nonprofit organization, said that household waste often results from consumers throwing food away even though it is still edible.

"For our food sold in supermarkets, there is often a 'use-by' date, which complies with the labeling requirements. These dates are fixed so there is a leeway to ensure the food is safe, but many people just throw away food after the 'use-by' date passes, when in fact the food may be perfectly good to eat, and maybe 60 years ago they would have eaten it," he said.

Jukes said the attitude of UK consumers toward food waste has changed dramatically since the Second World War. "The wealthier a society becomes, the more it is able to throw good food away," he said. "People think: 'I'm reasonably well off, so I don't mind having excess food. It demonstrates we're not in a bad situation anymore!"

In recent years, successive UK governments have launched campaigns to encourage consumers to reduce waste. A system was also created whereby industry players feel financial pressure: Restaurant owners are required to separate their food waste from other types. They then have to pay professional collectors to take waste away. The system is intended to dissuade businesses from binning excessive amounts of waste.

The UK has no formal legislation on reducing food waste, said Jukes, and legislation relating to food waste is often implemented for the purpose of ensuring food security.

Industry associations that promote the sustainable handling of food waste also play a key role in raising awareness of the issue among individuals and restaurants.

The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a nonprofit membership organization established by individuals in the catering industry in 2010 to help restaurants adopt sustainable practices. It has about 1,100 member restaurants.

"Many restaurants had the best of intentions, but didn't know how to change," said Tom Tanner, the SRA's media manager.

SRA staff provide member restaurants with advice and information that can help to reduce food waste. They advise restaurants to provide smaller portions and encourage customers to use doggy boxes to take leftover food home.

A survey carried out by the SRA in 2010 found that the average London restaurant threw out 21 tons of food waste every year; 30 percent of the waste came straight from customers' plates.

"Some restaurants serve large portions or lots of cheap side dishes. The customer may not realize how much food they have ordered, and can end up paying for something they cannot eat," said Tanner.

The results of the survey prompted the organization to launch a campaign in 2011 called "Too Good To Waste". The campaign encouraged consumers to feel comfortable about asking for doggy boxes for leftover food and encouraged waiters to offer them at the end of a meal.

"In the UK, people are either too embarrassed to ask, or they assume the restaurant won't be allowed to give them doggy boxes," explained Tanner.

The SRA also urges member restaurants to prepare food in quantities likely to match customer requirements. "For example, if a restaurant expects 50 customers during the evening, we encourage them not to prepare 50 portions of the evening's special dish. It's better to run out than throw away," he added.

So far, the campaign has proved successful and many member restaurants have also been able to reduce costs by employing the SRA's suggestions.