OPINION: 'Food waste tax' is one bill easy to reduce

Too many of us are throwing away food that is perfectly usable, says Andy Newman

Too many of us are throwing away food that is perfectly usable, says Andy Newman - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With inflation running at more than five per cent, energy costs going through the roof, and a big across-the-board tax rise due to hit in a few weeks, few households are immune from the looming cost of living crisis.

Not many of us can do much about boosting our income, so lots of people are taking a long, hard look at our spending, trying to find areas where we can make savings. So it seems mad that the average family chucks the equivalent of £730 straight in the bin every year.

According to sustainability charity Wrap, that is the value that each and every family wastes by throwing food away each year. It equates to a massive 244kg of food – 580 complete meals.

When a growing section of the population is having to make choices between eating and heating, and when food banks are struggling to keep up with ballooning demand from hungry families, why are we not paying more attention to food waste?

Wrap estimates that over two-thirds of the 6.6 million tonnes of food we simply bin every year is edible, perfectly good food which is worth a whopping £14 billion. That is around four times the combined profits of the ‘big four’ supermarkets, just consigned to the dustbin.

At a time when the whole issue of food security is under the microscope (another result of Brexit, the gift that keeps on giving), not to mention an increased awareness that our planet’s resources are finite and running out fast, how have we got to a situation where we accept that it’s OK to waste enough food to completely eliminate hunger in our country?

It’s time we got a grip on this problem, it’s something for which we all have to take responsibility. The good news is that cutting the amount of food you waste – and by doing so, drastically cutting your grocery bills – is easy and largely painless. It just takes a bit of organisation.

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But first, we need to address the supermarkets’ role in all of this. Too often you are forced into buying more than you need, either because it’s impossible to buy a loose single onion or carrot, or because the pernicious ‘Buy one get one free’ offers encourage consumers to over-buy.

However, as with so much in life, we need to stop blaming others and take a good look at our own behaviour. Because there is much we can do to reduce our food waste – and boost our family finances at the same time.

Perhaps the most effective step we can all take is to plan what we are going to eat before we go shopping, so that we only buy what we need. A huge amount of waste happens because we buy too much, or purchase things we already have in our store cupboards. A simple menu plan for the week, coupled to a pre-panned shopping list, will pay dividends.

Portion control is important here as well. How often do you cook too much, and then end up throwing the surplus away? Either work out how much you are likely to eat in the first place, or else become adept at batch-cooking and freezing the result into sensible portions. It’s not rocket science.

The top three most wasted foodstuffs are potatoes, bread and milk. These are all things that most of us use very regularly, so perhaps we are simply buying too much of them.

The other big thing which contributes to food waste is a lack of understanding of what is meant by food labelling, and in particular a confusion between ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates. The first of these is about food safety, and you shouldn’t eat food after the ‘Use By’ date, even if it looks and smells fine.

‘Best Before’ dates, on the other hand, are about quality or appearance, and have little to do with food safety. Wrap reckons that around 15 per cent of food waste down to people jettisoning perfectly good products which are beyond their ‘Best Before’ date.

The National Insurance hike which is due to come into effect in April will cost the average worker £255.

That money will go directly to shoring up the health service which has done so much to keep us safe and well over the past two years, and the creaking care system which everyone agrees needs more funding. And yet still plenty of people are complaining about this extra tax.

Perhaps we should all do something to tackle the voluntary £730 ‘food waste tax’ we pay unnecessarily each year instead. Not only would this give us back nearly three times as much as the NHS levy will cost us, but it will help the planet by reducing the resources necessary to produce all that wasted food.