Pasta leftovers being scraped from a white plate into a black bin liner

Urgent action needed at scale to tackle food waste in our homes

23 November 2023

  • Food waste costs a four-person household around £1,000 per year in food bought, but not eaten.
  • 6.4 million tonnes (Mt) of food and drink thrown away in our homes in 2021 of which 4.7Mt could have been eaten: 12% of the 40Mt we buy every year.
  • Potatoes, cooked leftovers (home-made/pre-prepared meals), and bread top the UK’s wasted food table. UK households throw away 300,000t of meat and fish a year, costing £3.2 billion.
  • Industry and retailers cut their operational food waste, reduce carbon footprint of food, and improve water-use - but action by brands and retailers now critical to cut household food waste.

Climate action NGO, WRAP, today publishes updated figures for UK food waste, food-related GHG emissions, and water use linked to food production. 

Food waste figures show that, whilst lower than when records began in 2007, the amount of food thrown away in our homes rose in the period 2018 - 2021 and remains by far the largest source of food waste of the UK’s 10.7Mt total. To assess trends in household food waste over time, WRAP focused on food waste collected by local authorities only to allow robust comparisons*. For these waste streams, food waste was 76kg per person in 2021 from UK homes – approximately the weight of an average person. This is 9kg per person heavier than in 2018 (when last reported) and similar to levels between 2010 and 2017, but 15.5kg lower than in 2007.

WRAP believes two factors contributed significantly to the increase in household food waste. More food was consumed in the home in this period compared to pre-pandemic years as there was much less opportunity for people to eat out. And food prices relative to average incomes were also much lower at the time. This means that despite action taken to reduce food waste over the same period, there was still an increase overall.

Household food waste remains 17% lower than when WRAP first raised awareness of the issue in 2007, and today’s report shows ongoing improvements by signatories to its Courtauld 2030 voluntary agreement have reduced the carbon footprint of food, improved water stewardship and continue to reduce food waste in the supply chain – before it reaches the home.

WRAP’s world-leading analysis provides detailed information and rich insights to support efforts to reduce the amount of food waste in UK homes. The climate action NGO wants to build action - helping people to make the most of the food they buy at the same time as scaling action by food businesses and retailers to implement further strategies - and share the responsibility of cutting food waste and costs in our homes.

Catherine David, Director of Behaviour Change and Business Programmes at WRAP, “Whilst food waste in our homes is lower than in 2007, this increase is a stark indication that there must be significant action, at scale, to tackle this problem.  We waste 12% of the food that we buy with an average household of four throwing away £1,000 of good food each year. This is happening also because our food system is making it hard for people to buy only what they need, and to use more of what they buy. We know how hard it is to make change happen and we believe that key to success is a shared responsibility for action.

“We need retailers, brands, manufacturers, hospitality businesses, local authorities and national governments to work together and focus on helping customers buy what they need. We need to reshape the food system and treat food like the precious resource it is. Slowing down is not an option given the damage caused by food waste and its direct contribution to climate change.”

In total, for all waste disposal routes, 6.4Mt of food and drink waste arose from our homes. Of this, 4.7Mt could have been eaten – with the following impacts:

  • 18Mt of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions associated with food and drink waste from UK homes: 3% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. Meat and fish contributed the most (26%) despite making up just 6% of the total weight. Meals, both homemade and readymade, contributed 18% of emissions while fresh vegetables and salad, the number one category by weight, contributed 16% emissions and 28% of total food waste.
  • In financial terms, the total cost of food thrown away in our homes was £17 billion in 2021 (£3 billion was food past the date on its label). On average, this is £250 per person and approximately £1,000 for a household of four. In addition, local authorities spent around £510M disposing of or treating food waste.

Alongside household food waste, WRAP today publishes progress by businesses and signatories to the Courtauld 2030 voluntary agreement. The Courtauld 2030 targets align to global targets under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to reduce food waste and is pioneering work to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint associated with food and drink consumed in the UK and increase the proportion of UK fresh food sourced from areas with sustainable water management.

  • Retail: between 2018 and 2021 food waste per capita fell by 8.5%. Retail food waste in 2021 was 26% lower than in 2007. To halve its food waste by 2030, retail food waste must fall by a further 31% in 9 years. Retail food waste makes up 3% of post-farm gate food waste in the UK. 
  • Food Manufacturing: Between 2018 and 2021 this fell by 9.2%. Manufacturing food waste per capita was 34% lower in 2021 compared to 2007. At the current rate of reduction, manufacturing food waste will halve by 2030. Manufacturing food waste makes up 18% of post-farm gate food waste in the UK. 
  • Hospitality and Food Service Sector: Current (2021) estimate of food waste in the sector is around 1.08Mt per year. The majority, 800,000 tonnes, could have been eaten. The sector produces 14% of food waste tracked under the Courtauld target. Poor data from the sector makes it problematic to measure changes over time.

Progress against the Courtauld 2030 greenhouse gas target (50% absolute reduction in emissions associated with food/drink consumed in the UK) shows a 14% reduction between 2015-2021. The Water Roadmap, launched in November 2021, had more than 60 businesses committed. More than half have submitting data and conducted a water risk assessment, but only half had set water-related targets. There are currently seven collective action projects in the UK and overseas.

Catherine David, “Today’s results are testament to the hard work of retail and manufacturing businesses - food waste shows a long-term trend of falling in those sectors due to the actions of businesses signed up to Courtauld 2030. There are some good examples of initiatives which work to reduce household food waste, including campaigns likes Food Waste Action Week and retailers acting to remove unnecessary Best Before dates from fresh uncut produce. We need these actions and more - at scale - and with more urgency. For example, we know that buying loose fruit and veg helps people waste less at home and so we’re working with retailers to sell more loose fresh produce which removes single use plastics too. We will be continuing to both support action and to keep close watch on what the evidence shows in future.”

Notes to Editor

Full list of reports (live from Thursday 23rd November)

The Courtauld Commitment 2030 Milestone Report 2023

The Courtauld Commitment 2030 Milestone Technical Report 2023

Household Food and Drink Waste in the United Kingdom 2021/22

Synthesis of Household Food Waste Compositional Data 2021

Methods used for Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK 2021/22

Household Food Waste Tracker report

Food Waste Reduction Roadmap Progress Update 2023

Food Surplus and Waste in the UK Key Facts (Updated November 2023)

UK Food System GHG Emissions: 2022-23 Update (Summary Report)

  • *This covers over 80% of the total but excludes disposal routes for which measurement is more problematic: food and drink waste going down the sewer (e.g. kitchen sink) or home composted.
  • New measurement technique - WRAP last reported household food waste in 2018 using a combination of local authority data, and citizen diaries to estimate food discarded by sewer and home composting. At that time WRAP calculated total household food waste at 6.6 million tonnes per annum. However, to ensure greater accuracy, WRAP has revised how it will report food waste in future to focus exclusively on food waste physically collected by local authorities and calculated through compositional analysis. It will discontinue using data from diaries for tracking levels of food waste over time due to underestimation that varies between studies. Therefore, the comparison WRAP makes that describes a rise in 2021 assesses only data sourced from local councils in 2018-2021. This demonstrates the 9kg increase on 2018 volumes at 76kg per person with far greater accuracy.
  • Food Waste Reduction Roadmap - In 2018 WRAP and IGD led an industry wide programme to develop and launch the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap. By the end of 2021, 267 businesses, including 237 large businesses, were signed up to the Roadmap with over 85% of the large businesses signed up providing evidence of implementing Target, Measure, Act.
  • WRAP is a climate action NGO working around the globe to tackle the causes of the climate crisis and give the planet a sustainable future. We believe that our natural resources should not be wasted and that everything we use should be re-used and recycled. We bring together and work with governments, businesses, and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. Our work includes: UK Plastics Pact, Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030 and the campaigns Love Food Hate Waste and Recycle Now. We run Food Waste Action Week and Recycle Week 
  • Contact details Please contact Frances Armitage if you would like to arrange an interview with one of WRAP’s spokespeople [email protected] 07711 378300.