Returning to normality after Covid-19: Food waste attitudes and behaviours in 2021

Key Findings 

  • The response of UK citizens to the pandemic – in the way they adopted food management behaviours – is proof that they have the skills to reduce food waste.
  • UK citizens recognise the benefits of their new behaviours and want to maintain them.
  • As life returns to normal the reality is more challenging. Time pressures are returning, more meals out/takeaways are leading to more displaced meals, and the behaviours that proved so effective during lockdown are under pressure.
  • Levels of self-reported food waste have rebounded and are now back in line with 2018.
  • There has been a decline in the perceived importance of food waste as a national issue.

Globally, the production of food accounts for up to 37% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and requires significant resources including land, energy, and water. However, up to 40% is wasted . In the UK, 70% of UK food waste (post-farm gate) comes from households, equivalent to a value of over £14 billion a year and 20 million tonnes of GHG emissions. 

The WRAP Food Trends & KPI survey is a bi-annual survey of UK households that gathers evidence on food waste attitudes, knowledge, and behaviour. It is the largest and longest running of its kind, having been undertaken by WRAP since 2007 . 

In 2020, it extended into a comprehensive programme of four surveys to understand and track the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on citizens’ food habits and behaviours. This is the first survey in 2021 and was undertaken when the UK was beginning to open up after widespread restrictions. 

The response of UK citizens to the pandemic – in the way they adopted food management behaviours – is proof that they have the skills to reduce food waste.  Furthermore, our research from 2020 is clear that UK citizens themselves recognised the benefits of their behaviours and wanted to keep doing them after the lockdown ended. 

However, as life returns to some degree of normality, the reality is more challenging. Time pressures in daily life are returning and citizens are eating more meals out and takeaways again (causing more displaced meals). The food management behaviours that proved so effective during lockdown are under pressure and, as a result, levels of self-reported food waste in June/July have rebounded and are back in line with 2018.  

So, how can we support UK citizens to retain their lockdown food management behaviours? Our approach is as follows: 

  • WRAP’s programme of behaviour change interventions (BCIs) utilises behavioural science and insight to identify motivations and help overcome key barriers and issues causing food waste, such as displaced meals and a lack of time.  
  • WRAP is busy planning the March 2022 Food Waste Action Week. WRAP is asking all stakeholders to join us in raising (then maintaining) the nations awareness of the importance of reducing household food waste.  
  • Specific Love Food Hate Waste campaigns are highly effective in encouraging behaviour change but require much greater reach with the support of a range of partners across the UK.  
  • Our always on campaign Love Food Hate Waste is tackling key household food waste management behaviours and there are plenty of opportunities for partners to come together to drive greater impact using the free resources available. 
  • WRAP will continue to work with food businesses on adopting our recommendations for food date labelling and storage advice to make it easier for citizens to reduce food waste in the home. 

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  • Food trends report summary

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  • Food trends report - August 2021

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