A spread of healthy looking food on a table

Food waste: The environmental impact

04 Apr 21

We all know we shouldn’t waste food when there are still many in Scotland and across the world who do not have enough to eat. 

But did you know how much impact wasting food has on the environment and driving climate change?

Food waste and climate change

In today’s modern world most of the food we eat has come on a long journey from where it is grown or produced to supermarket shelves and into our homes.

When we waste food, we also waste all the energy, resources, and associated carbon emissions that went into producing, processing, transporting and cooking it.

On top of this, if food waste then ends up in landfill, it generates even more emissions in the form of methane gas. Methane is many times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.

Food waste is also a potentially valuable resource for energy, fuel or for fertiliser, that we lose to landfill.

Globally 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year.

 Greenhouse gas emissions from food waste

Globally 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year. This is around one-third of all that is produced for human consumption, and it is generating about 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

This is nearly as much as the emissions from road transport globally. Financially it also has a huge impact, food loss and waste amounts to economic losses of $940 billion worldwide per year.

Here in Scotland, we waste nearly 988,000 tonnes of food every year. Most of this happens in our homes with 61% and food & drink manufacturing at 25%.

While it is important for everyone to take responsibility for food waste, the relationships between the consumer, the retailer and the supply chain are complex, with each influencing the others’ decisions and behaviour.

Food waste in Scotland - where does it come from

Combating food waste

As a nation we have committed to addressing food waste and reducing its impact on our changing climate towards a sustainable future and net-zero carbon by 2045.

In 2016, the Scottish Government set an ambitious target for food waste reduction aiming for a 33% reduction by 2025.

Achieving this would prevent over 1.1 million tonnes of carbon equivalent from being released into the atmosphere. That is equivalent to taking 1 in 5 cars off Scotland's roads for a year.

The Scottish Government is aiming for a 33% reduction in food waste by 2025.

Photo of a person putting food peelings into a food waste caddy.

So what can you do?

Fighting climate change can seem a daunting task but tackling food waste is something that every one of us can do to make a big difference:

  • Make the most of your leftovers - instead of throwing away any uneaten food, turn it into a new meal for tomorrow.
  • How you store your food makes a big difference to how long it lasts. 
  • Plan your meals ahead of time. It’ll help prevent food waste, and save you money.
  • Check your cupboards and write a list before you go shopping.
  • Remember that although use by dates are there for food safety reasons (food should not be eaten after a use by date), a best before date is simply a guide to when the product will be past its best -  it's fine to eat things after the best before date so long as you haven’t passed the use by date yet.
  • If you’re not going to use it in time, freeze it. Even milk!

Take a look at Love Food Hate Waste Scotland for more hints and tips on how you can cut down on food waste at home. You’ll even find some recipe inspiration for using up those leftovers!