As much as one fifth of the food and drink people buy ends up being dumped in the bin, costing the average Scottish household £430 a year. Yet most of it could be eaten or drunk.
Top of the most-wasted league are the 70,000 tonnes of drinks dumped down the sink, worth about £140 million. Then there’s the 62,000 tonnes of fresh vegetables, the 46,000 tonnes of baked goods and the 34,000 tonnes of fresh fruit that are annually discarded (see table below).
According to the Scottish government, nearly 400,000 tonnes of the food thrown out every year can be avoided. And householders could save themselves £35 a month by reducing their waste.
Wasting food also has a high environmental cost. Most of it is dumped as landfill and rots to produce methane and other greenhouse gases that are disrupting the climate around the globe.
This week ministers are launching a renewed drive to get people to buy less, cook less and waste less. The key, they say, is better household planning, improved storage and smarter shopping.
The campaign will use TV advertising, social media and a government website to help people reduce food waste. A national information roadshow will start touring around Scotland later this month.
One piece of advice is to “don’t go shopping for food when you’re hungry”. Another is to buy lemon and herbs for “perking up leftovers” and to squeeze lemon juice on leftover apples, pears and avocados to stop them turning brown.
The environment secretary, Richard Lochhead, accepted that everyone wasted food. “But by making a few simple changes to the way we plan our meals, to our weekly food shopping, to using up leftovers and to better storage, we can help our pockets and the environment too,” he said.
“The new food waste reduction campaign aims to benefit everyone by providing practical help and advice, it seeks to empower everyone to shop smarter, waste less, save more and help create a greener, cleaner Scotland now and for the future.”
Reducing the wastage of food is seven times better for the environment than recycling it, the government says. But if food does have to be thrown away, it can be composted for fertiliser or used to generate renewable energy instead of being dumped as waste.
The new campaign has been welcomed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) as a key step towards achieving the objective of “zero waste”. Councils say they are helping people reduce and recycle food waste.
“Good progress has been made,” said COSLA’s spokesperson for development, economy and sustainability, councillor Stephen Hagan. “Small steps by individuals to tackle food waste will make continuing this progress an easier task in hard times.”
Ministers were criticised, however, by the Scottish Greens for missing the point. “Instead of continually lecturing the public, the Scottish government needs to give people their choices back when it comes to food shopping,” said the Green MSP, Patrick Harvie.
“Ministers, as well as local authorities, have allowed corporate interests to take priority with our towns and cities surrounded by massive supermarkets that encourage you fill up the boot of your car, often with hard-to-resist special offers like BOGOFs - Buy One Get One Free. It's time we told the retail giants to BOGOF and gave local shops a helping hand to compete.”
The top five foods wastedDrinks: 70,000 tonnes worth £140 million
Fresh vegetables: 62,000 tonnes worth £100 million
Bakery items: 46,000 tonnes worth £90 million
Fresh fruit: 34,000 tonnes worth £70 million
Meat and fish: 20,000 tonnes worth £130 million
Government advice on cutting food wasteCheck cupboards and write a list before shopping
Plan meals in advance
Have sensible portions
Check date labelling and storage information
Use up or freeze leftovers
source: Scottish government