We bin 7m tons of food a year: a quarter of it still in the packet

What are we binning, and why?

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environmental issues, recycling black bin liners full of rubbish on the street

New figures have revealed that the state of food waste is even worse than we thought. We throw away 1.6 million tons of vegetables, 910,000 tons of fresh fruit, 570,000 tons of meat and fish, and 560,000 tons of baked goods every year. In total we ditch 7 million tons of food a year.

A million tons of this hasn't even been taken out of the packet before it hits the bin.

The cost of all this waste is staggering. The value of all the unopened food we throw away is around £90 per household every year. When you add in the rest of the wasted food, it brings the annual bill to £200 each.

The good news is that this isn't all being squandered needlessly: around 2.8 million tons of it are scraps like egg shells, peelings and bones. However, that still leaves an incredible 4.2 million tons of avoidable waste.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) food assessed the percentage of food that is binned without ever being opened. By far the worst example was mushrooms - we throw away 23,000 tons of these a year - 65% of which are never opened. This is followed by tomatoes - 63% of which are unopened, Yoghurts (50%), Carrots (33%) and fresh vegetables and salad as a whole (30%).

However, when measured by total tonnage, potatoes are the worst offender, as we throw 230,000 tons of them away without opening them - which makes up a quarter of all unopened food waste.

Why?

Wrap found that a third of all unopened food that is thrown away is done simply by looking at the 'use by' date, while the rest was judged by peering through the packaging. It is calling on the industry to reconsider the 'use by' phrase for things like yogurts and replace them with 'best before', which could help reduce the £130 million worth of yoghurts thrown away every year.

It also wants shops to change the phrase 'freeze on day of purchase' to 'freeze by date shown' - so people don't automatically assume that once something has been lurking in the fridge for a couple of days it is too late to freeze it.

It also found that 90% of food waste is in larger amounts - which indicates that we are buying in too-large quantities and not getting through food in time. It blames large multipacks for making us feel we are getting a better deal by buying more. It says supermarkets ought to offer smaller multipacks to provide value-for-money without forcing people to buy more than they need.

However, a great deal of the problem is down to us, because we don't keep on top of what we have and when it needs to be eaten by. We are also far too keen to throw things in the bin when things can either be put into the freezer, or cooked up and then frozen.

What can you do?

Wrap says the solution for many people lies in being a bit more organised. In an ideal world you should be planning your meals, checking the cupboards and the fridge for what you already have, and then doing the shopping for just those things you definitely need.

If you cannot sustain this, at the very least you need to glance through the fridge before you hit the shops, so you don't duplicate the things you have. You should also make the time to look through the fridge every few days to assess the state of food in there, and make a decision about what you need to eat next before it goes off - and what needs to be frozen because you're not going to get to it in time.

But what do you think? What are your tips for reducing food waste?