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Food waste worse than plastic for climate change says Zero Waste Scotland

Food waste from Scottish homes even worse for climate change than plastic waste, Zero Waste Scotland warns as it urges everyone to play their part through its new Food Waste Reduction Action Plan.

14 May 19

Food waste from Scottish homes is an even greater cause of global warming than plastic waste, the national body leading work to make best use of resources has warned.

Zero Waste Scotland pledged to increase public awareness of the fact that binning cold leftovers and other wasted food does more to drive up climate change than the better-known environmental problem of plastic.

The agency issued the warning as it began work to implement its new Food Waste Reduction Action Plan, launched with the Scottish Government with the aim of reducing food waste across Scotland by a third by 2025.

When food waste ends up in landfill, it rots, producing methane - one of the most damaging greenhouse gases driving up climate change.  In the short-term methane is many times worse than carbon dioxide.

Iain Gulland, chief executive Zero Waste Scotland, said: “It might seem bizarre but scraping that leftover lasagne, mince or salad from your plate into the bin is seriously damaging the planet, because when those scraps of pasta and lettuce which you never got around to eating end up in landfill, they rot. And as they break down they emit methane, which is many times more harmful in the short-term to our climate than carbon dioxide (CO2).

“Food waste is actually a bigger cause of climate change than plastics. It is still vital that we continue to reduce plastic waste, which remains an extremely serious issue. But as more people ditch single use plastics as awareness grows of the wider impact of plastic waste, including pollution, we will send a strong message on the damage caused by binning leftovers and other wasted food.” 

Research by Zero Waste Scotland has found that the carbon footprint of food waste collected from Scottish households in 2016 alone was nearly three times that of plastic waste collected from people’s homes, at roughly 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) compared to 0.73MtCO2e in 2016. One of the key reasons why food waste has a far greater impact on global warming is that there is much more of it, with the amount of food waste collected from Scottish households in 2016 roughly double the amount of plastic waste collected. Zero Waste Scotland figures for that year calculated that 456,000 tonnes of food waste was collected in total, compared with 224,000 tonnes of plastic waste.

Only 93,000 tonnes of the food waste collected was sent to dedicated food waste recycling collections, with most of the rest sent to landfill.

Zero Waste Scotland is leading work to reach the Scottish Government’s 2025 target on reducing food waste by a third. The plan sets out the ways in which Zero Waste Scotland will build on past achievements and tackle some of the barriers to reducing food waste. These include improving monitoring and measurement of food waste to identify hotspots to target further support where it is needed most.

The Scottish Government has also launched a new advertising campaign, entitled Food Gone Bad, to help raise awareness of the impact food waste has on climate change and how to reduce it. The advertisements feature animation including a mushroom attacking a polar bear to highlight the damaging role which food that has ‘gone bad’ plays in causing global warming.



Notes For Editors

Zero Waste Scotland exists to create a society where resources are valued and nothing is wasted. The organisation’s goal is to help Scotland realise the economic, environmental and social benefits of making best use of the world’s limited natural resources.

Background information:

Nearly a million tonnes of food and drink (988,000) in total is wasted in Scotland annually, of which most (around 600,000 tonnes) is produced by Scottish households and consumers (61%). Of that 600,000 most goes to landfill. The 2016 figures estimated that of the 600,000 tonnes of food waste, 456,000 tonnes was collected, of which 93,000 went to dedicated food recycling collections with most of the rest binned in general waste for landfill. The remaining amount, of around 150,000 tonnes, went to home composting or ended up in sewage works after going down the drain from kitchen sinks.

The best way to tackle food waste is to prevent it in the first place. Zero Waste Scotland’s Love Food Hate Waste has a wealth of information for people to help them get the most from their food and their money. 

Collectively, food waste costs Scottish households just over £1billion each year. (£1.07b) As well as helping to save the planet, every Scottish household could save an average of £440 a year by reducing the food they waste.  This can be done through relatively simple things such as planning meals, making better use of storage such as freezers and being inventive with using up leftovers. 

While some food waste is unavoidable, such as egg shells, most of the food which is thrown out nationwide could have been eaten and enjoyed.  Throwing away food wastes the resources which went into producing, transporting and buying that food. It also wastes a potentially valuable resource that could be redistributed to humans, recycled as animal feeds, or even converted to fuel and energy.

Globally, the amount of food waste generated is almost four times as much as the total amount of plastic produced (including both plastic waste and plastic products which are still in use) (Sources: http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/ and https://www.plasticseurope.org/application/files/5715/1717/4180/Plastics_the_facts_2017_FINAL_for_website_one_page.pdf)

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