Lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of Covid-19 have impacted every part of life – and experts are surprised to have found they’re drastically reducing the amount of food we throw away.
Our behaviour around planning, buying, storing and eating food changed in just the first two weeks of lockdown, research by sustainability group WRAP found, recording a 34 per cent drop in the amount of potatoes, bread, milk and chicken wasted by UK households.
This is in part down to shifting shopping patterns, with 63 per cent of UK citizens saying they were going to the supermarket less often. But nearly the same number of people said they had bought more food in the last month.
Attitudes towards food changed too, with a 23 per cent increase in the number of people who agreed with the statement “everyone, including me, has a responsibility to minimise the food we throw away”.
The study of nearly 4,200 adults carried out between 6-9 April found Brits had been getting into good habits: including spending more time planning before going to the shop, improving food storage in their homes, freezing more produce and getting creative with cooking.
Frozen foods have months of life #BeyondBestBefore. Our new guidance outlines how these can be redistributed to make the most of this frozen products https://t.co/eVKtGQL2w0 pic.twitter.com/rd3prmlSlU
— WRAP (@WRAP_UK) May 20, 2020
These new behaviours could be saving people money despite them buying more in one go. Helen White, special advisor for household food waste at campaign group Love Food Hate Waste, said good food thrown away costs families an average of £700 a year.
She added: “It’s so encouraging to see this uptake in good food behaviours, especially during challenging times. Taking on new behaviours is a big change for people, so we want to provide the answers to people’s questions and fill in these knowledge gaps where we can. We’ve got really helpful resources on the Love Food Hate Waste website, from recipe suggestions to our storage guide and fridge thermometer checker.”
The closure of restaurants and cafes alongside strict social distancing rules inside supermarkets has pushed households to become more resourceful in how they manage their food, something campaigners hope will cement a new normal for the good of our wallets and the planet.
Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP, said: “In this sustained period of uncertainty, UK citizens have shown how resilient they can be when it comes to managing their food. These actions should mean less food goes to waste, helping take the pressure off the supply chain and reducing the number of trips we need to make to the shops – or deliveries to our homes.
“Our goal is to help people use these approaches to set a blueprint for their future actions, but we need support from organisations across the sector. WRAP will continue to seek out opportunities to reach people at home, providing easy ways to maintain this progress, and work in partnership with businesses, local authorities, and government to make this approach to valuing food the new normal.”
Visits to Love Food Hate Waste’s ‘food storage A-Z’ have rocketed by 158 per cent since lockdown began as people look for help managing their food better.
The study identified some knowledge gaps among UK citizens, including the best temperatures in which to keep apples (they do much better in the fridge in their original packaging, but nearly half thought they’d last longest at room temperature out of packaging). And nearly 40 per cent of people thought chicken has to be frozen the day it’s bought when it can actually be frozen up to the ‘use by’ date.
In 2018 households threw away 6.6 million tonnes of food waste but, encouragingly, it was a figure already on a downwards slope, compared to the 8.1 million tonnes thrown away in 2007. Nearly three quarters of what was thrown out could have been eaten.