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Food waste is rising again now lockdown has ended

People are being urged to do their bit for climate change by maintaining habits that led to a 43 per cent drop in food waste during the first Covid lockdown.

Food waste is back at pre-Covid levels following the reopening of society, with people spending less time planning meals and using leftovers.

Almost four in five people increased their food management after the UK was plunged into lockdown in March 2020. Batch cooking and freezing meals meant food waste dropped by 43 per cent and remained low throughout the year.

But post-lockdown time pressures, coupled with an increase in takeaways and dining out, have led waste to spike.

The survey, part of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign by environmental charity Wrap, focuses on food believed to have the highest levels of waste — bread, chicken, milk and potatoes — and asks respondents how much of their last purchase was thrown away uneaten.

It found waste fell from nearly a quarter of all items purchased in November 2019 to 13.7 per cent in April 2020. As of July the figure has rebounded to 19.7 per cent.

Some 30 per cent of people also classify as having “high levels” of food waste as of June, in line with November 2018 and some way above April 2020, when the figure was 20 per cent. 

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Wrap is now warning the decline in waste during lockdown could be undermined. Head of citizen behaviour change Sarah Clayton said: “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 busy lifestyles means we are falling back into our old ways, and that risks these key skills not being used.”

Clayton urged people to remember “wasting food feeds climate change”, particularly in light of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in August, which found human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways.

“Preventing food waste is one way we can all reduce the impacts our diets have on the environment, and fight climate change as individuals,” she said.

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The survey of 4,172 adults covers June 25 to July 5 when, on average, the UK ate 7.6 takeaways or out-of-home meals, compared to six in September 2020.

Household food waste is the biggest contributor to the UK’s 9.5 million tonnes of food waste.

Wrap is now urging retailers, food producers, local authorities, and community groups to support Love Food Hate Waste and make the behaviours people adopted become the “new normal”, rather than a lockdown footnote.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted around the world each year. That’s enough to feed 3 billion people.

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