A family dinner on a table with a person serving spaghetti

Food waste vs. plastic waste – which is worse for the environment?

21 Oct 21 2 minute read

When it comes to single-use plastics, it’s universally agreed that they have a negative impact on the environment.

And, in recent years, there have been really positive steps forward in Scotland on this issue – from packaging-free shops to a forthcoming Scottish Government ban on common single-use plastic items.

But what about the hidden carbon cost of wasting food? 


A massive 86% of Scots are unaware that food waste can be an even bigger contributor to climate change than plastic waste.

A shocking statistic

In a recent YouGov survey we found that a massive 86% of Scots are unaware that food waste can be an even bigger contributor to climate change than plastic waste.

To put this into context, sending just 1kg of food waste to landfill produces the same carbon emissions as landfilling a staggering 25,000 500ml plastic bottles.

We know there are instances of unavoidable food waste, fruit peels, coffee grounds, bones and shells, to name a few. However, these can all go in your food waste recycling bin which can, in turn, feed our plants and heat our homes. By reducing food waste and recycling what is unavoidable we can ensure that nothing goes to waste.

A knowledge gap

There’s a definite knowledge gap when it comes to the environmental impact of wasting food but we are on a mission to change this.

Our research found that only 20% of Scots prioritise reducing food waste at home while 63% prioritise reducing plastic waste, so how can we make it easier?

Small changes, big impact

The answer is simple, start small! We’ve got loads of brilliant resources available on our website and social media channels, but here are a few of our top tips to get you started:

  1. Shop savvy - over half the food we throw away could’ve been eaten if we had done some planning in advance! Meal plans and shopping lists are both great ways to keep on top of food waste. 

  2. Push pause - your freezer is your best friend in the fight against food waste, helping to preserve food at its best! Being smart with storage also ensures you get the most out of your shopping. 

  3. Love leftovers - getting creative with leftovers, fridge odds and ends and store cupboard staples is a fun (and frugal) way to tackle food waste! 

The figures are lifted directly from the published Carbon Metric Publications.

Using the carbon metric we can get the following figures:

1 kg of food waste = 0.989 kgco2e (kilograms of Co2 emissions released) & 1 x plastic bottle (0.01kg) = 0.00004 kgco2e

For the calculation divide the carbon total for 1 x 1kg food waste by the carbon total for 1 plastic bottle in order to get the amount of bottles required to equal that carbon value:
0.989 / 0.00004 24,725 

Therefore, when considering the landfilling element only the emissions from 24,725 bottles (plastic waste) = emissions from 1 kg food waste.

If we examine whole lifecycle impacts including production for both, the value is still sizeable with 1kg of food waste equalling 147 bottles (approximately 4 bags for life worth).

We have focused on the landfill value as it is the area in which households have the most control over and can make the biggest impact.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1004 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th - 30th September 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+).