Food waste and Covid-19 survey 3: Life in flux

16th October 2020

The third in a series of reports detailing how UK citizens’ food habits, behaviours and attitudes have changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Key findings
Almost four in five UK citizens (79%) undertook additional food management behaviours during lockdown, and these behaviours endured as lockdown eased.
However, fewer than 30% of us see a link between wasting food and climate change.

Reducing food waste is a financial and environmental imperative, and 70% of UK food waste (post-farm gate) comes from households, having a value of over £14 billion a year and associated with more than 20 million tonnes of GHG emissions. It is these stark facts that drive much of WRAP’s work in food and drink, and it’s why, as an evidence-based organisation, we seek to understand UK citizens’ attitudes and habits towards food.
 
It has also been important to understand exactly how Covid-19 is affecting citizens’ habits, behaviours and attitudes relating to food. The lockdown is having a profound effect on citizens’ daily lives, including several significant and wide-reaching impacts on food behaviours. WRAP undertook this latest research to track the impact that relaxing lockdown restrictions (at least in much of the UK) had on household food waste and in particular how the lifting of restrictions might have affected the way citizens plan, buy, store and waste food; in particular whether the aspiration among UK citizens to maintain these positive food management behaviours had resulted in continued efforts to reduce food waste. The survey was undertaken online from 11-16 September 2020 with a nationally representative sample of 4,119 UK adults aged 18+ with responsibility for food shopping and/or preparation.

Key findings

  • Self-reported food waste levels dropped substantially in the early months  lockdown (March to May) but then partially rebounded by June when lockdown first began to ease. They have now stabilised at June levels, well below pre-lockdown.
  • However, levels of food waste are higher among those returning to ‘normal’ (e.g. children returned to school, furloughed but now returned to work) and those feeling under more time pressure now than before lockdown. This highlights the need to support these behaviours as lockdown restrictions ease (at least in some parts of the UK) or risk a rapid return to pre-lockdown levels of food waste.
  • There is a strong association between levels of self-reported food waste and eating out. Half (50%) of those who have eaten out 10+ times in the past month (including both sit down meals as well as takeaways and food on the go) classify as having higher levels of food waste compared to 18% of those who have eaten out less than five times. 
  • Lifestyles and routines remain in a state of flux, with some groups feeling under more time pressure than others. In this sense lockdown has – and continues to be – experienced differently across the population.
  • Lockdown food management behaviours are enduring, with the vast majority either continuing the behaviour the same as during lockdown or even more. This is particularly true of checking date labels and on-pack storage guidance, using up leftovers, freezing items and checking the fridge before shopping. However, food preparation behaviours – such as cooking creatively, making a meal by combining random ingredients and batch cooking – appear to be under more pressure.
  • Information and guidance from Love Food Hate Waste is playing a key role. Almost one in five UK citizens (18%) have seen a specific campaign/source of information from Love Food Hate Waste. Of these, 92% say they found the information useful and 67% say they did something differently as a result. This currently equates to 4.4 million UK citizens aged 18+. The impact of these campaigns and resources would be more pronounced with greater reach.
  • Food waste prevention motivations and barriers are starting to evolve. As lockdown unease began to decline  and citizens had less time to manage and prepare food, other motivations such as saving money, valuing food, eating healthily and the environment increased in prominence.
  • There is a key opportunity to raise awareness of the contribution food waste makes to climate change with only 30% saying they can see a clear link.

Since the research was carried out it has become clear that the UK is now experiencing a second wave of Covid-19, necessitating the (re)-introduction of measures to mitigate against the impact of this. However, the insights from this research remain valid for those areas less impacted by restrictions, and in the medium-term for the UK as a whole as restrictions ease.

Wasting Food: It’s Out of Date

This research clearly shows that not enough people in the UK are making the connection between the food they throw away, and the damage this causes to our planet. This is a hard connection to make, and it is why WRAP saw the need to introduce a new voice.

WRAP has launched a fresh new brand aimed at informing the public about the huge impact wasted food has on climate change and the environment. Called Wasting Food: It’s Out of Date, the new brand has been created to raise awareness of the need to tackle  wasted food by showing the impact this has on the planet.