Climate Change

Food waste world’s third largest carbon emitter were it a country

FareShare has carried out a study which claims that food waste would be the third largest emitter of carbon globally, were it a country.

The charity states that the issue of food waste was ultimately neglected throughout discussions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) last week, in spite of food waste accounting for between 6 - 7 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Nationally, two million tonnes of food are wasted from farm to factory, FareShare estimates – to assuage this, the company is promoting the redistribution of surplus produce to charities and community groups across the country.

Food wasteThis solution is supported by the publication of the report, conceived in collaboration with the Carbon Trust. It demonstrates that for each tonne of food that is reallocated to others, rather than simply wasted, approximately 1.6 tonnes of embedded carbon dioxide can be saved. This ‘hidden’ carbon arises from ‘energy used in everything from cultivation and harvesting to packaging and transportation’, according to the report, which also quantifies the emissions set within the life cycle of the food that FareShare redistributes.

The study states that from the 6,699 tonnes of food waste diverted by FareShare in total, a carbon saving of 10,698 tCO2e has been made. Of this figure, dairy and vegetables accounted for 51.2 per cent of the overall footprint, with ready meals, fruit and meat the only other categories making up more than five per cent of the final amount respectively.

It was also revealed by the study that for each tonne of food that is redistributed, a loss of 1,525,000 litres of water – used throughout production – will be avoided. In terms of the amount of water saved by FareShare, the total footprint generated by redirected food waste was 10,216,904 m3 of embedded liquid. The largest category in this instance was uncategorised foodstuffs, as a result of 40 per cent of the stock being non-classified within this section – its proportion of the water footprint totalled 40 per cent.

James Persad, Head of Marketing and Engagement at FareShare, commented: “These Carbon Trust figures show, from a carbon and water saving perspective, that the best destination for edible food will always be people’s plates.”

He continued: “Even if you take all the other big emitters out of the picture, food production alone would push the earth past 1.5 degrees of warming – yet food waste has effectively been frozen out of talks at COP26.

“Food is extraordinarily resource intensive to produce – which is why it’s heart-breaking to see so much of it being wasted – with all the energy and water used to create it wasted too. These Carbon Trust figures show, from a carbon and water saving perspective, that the best destination for edible food will always be people’s plates.

“Right now, an estimated 2m tonnes of perfectly good-to-eat food is wasted on UK farms – and, while it’s still cheaper for farmers to send that food to AD, animal feed or landfill than to charities, that will continue to be the case.

“Meaningful action on food waste will be crucial if we are to achieve Net Zero. We’re calling on the government to take this issue seriously and commit to fair funding to enable food businesses to do the right thing, morally and environmentally, with their surplus food.”