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UK household food waste on the rise after lockdown easing

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Household food waste is rising following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, according to a report by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

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 and is a snapshot of the UK’s food behaviours post-lockdown.

The campaign 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 UK 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 – 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 the year. The latest survey shows a spike in reported food waste coinciding with lockdown easing in June and July. In July, food waste was on par with pre-pandemic levels at 19.7%, with three in 10 people falling into the category of ‘high food waste’.

“One of the few positives of this extraordinary time has been people taking up new habits that prevent food from going to waste,” said Sarah Clayton, head of citizen behaviour at WRAP.

“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. People tell us they have found these habits extremely helpful.

“But the return of our 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, it is imperative we remember that wasting food feeds climate change and most food waste happens in the home.”

Recently, the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) also warned that the heavy-goods vehicle driver shortage could impact renewable energy production, due to reductions in food and garden waste collection.

The REA’s call follows major concerns over the reduced frequency or even suspension of waste collections by councils across the UK. While some measures have been introduced by the Department for Transport to alleviate the crisis, the REA is calling for a change to immigration rules to allow the waste and recycling sector to recruit HGV drivers.