Resource Use

WRAP reports lockdown drop in food waste

A Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) survey has found citizens are adopting ‘food smart’ behaviours and creating less food waste during the Covid-19 lockdown.

An image of a food shopping bag

The survey, titled ‘Citizen responses to the Covid-19 lockdown – food purchasing, management and waste’, consulted 4,197 adults responsible for their households’ shopping between 6-9 April, two weeks after the UK entered lockdown.

The findings identified many are adopting new shopping habits during lockdown: 63 per cent are going to the shops less, 59 per cent are choosing to buy more when they do, with nearly half actively checking their cupboards more often before setting off to the supermarket.

More infrequent shopping trips and more food in households mean it is all the more important to make food last. Positively, more than a third of participants reported that they are enacting certain food-saving behaviours more often than before the lockdown, such as checking what is in their cupboard (47 per cent), their fridge (45 per cent) and their freezer (30 per cent) before shopping, as well as making a shopping list before heading to the shops (34 per cent).

Furthermore, survey respondents reported they are increasingly making meals from random ingredients (37 per cent), opting to cook creatively with new recipes (33 per cent), and saving food leftovers to use the next day (30 per cent).

In turn, there has been a 34 per cent reduction in the amount of potatoes, milk, bread and chicken thrown away.

Commenting on the lockdown’s effect on their households’ food habits, three anonymous participants reflected:

“Because the children aren’t at school now, the food’s getting eaten quicker, so I’m having to plan for three square meals a day as opposed to two, because when they’re at school they are provided with food.”

“Because I can’t get to the shops as much, I’m much more aware of dates, and trying to reduce my waste. So previously I wouldn’t have really bothered checking dates, and would have thrown things out frequently, but now I’m much more conscious of what we’re doing.”

“I’m finding it a lot easier to use things by their ‘use by’ date by making meals, prepped, homemade, and then freezing them in portion sizes ready for us to eat in the week.”

Food waste revolution: creating a ‘new normal’

Reflecting upon the survey responses, which illustrate positive steps in managing food going forward, Helen White, Special Advisor for Household Food Waste at WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste, said: “It’s so encouraging to see this uptake in good food behaviours, especially during challenging times.

However, despite the positive change in behaviours, several knowledge gaps have been identified by the survey. WRAP found that almost half (49 per cent) of respondents believe that apples last longest if you leave them at room temperature out of their original packaging, when they actually last much longer in the fridge in their original packaging, while 40 per cent believe chicken breasts must be frozen on the day of purchase, when they can in fact be frozen on any date before the ‘Use By’ date.

White added: “Taking on new behaviours is a big change for people, so we want to provide the answers to people’s questions and fill in these knowledge gaps where we can.”

Read more: Four ways to reduce food waste during coronavirus lockdown

WRAP hopes to generate knowledge on driving behavioural change through its Love Food Hate Waste website, from recipe suggestions to its storage guide and fridge thermometer checker.

Behavioural change is not just directed at households, however; last month WRAP updated its guidance on restributing surplus food, pressing retailers and businesses to look beyond the ‘Best Before’ date to increase the amount of food available for redistribution to those who need it.

Nevertheless, there are concerns that when lockdown lifts society will revert to old behaviours. Hayley Conick, UK Country Manager for food waste fighting app Too Good To Go, commented: "The data released today by WRAP is encouraging. It shows that the lockdown is changing behaviour when it comes to how we treat food. Piece by piece, our appreciation for our most precious resource is returning. However, there is a risk that as soon as we return to normality – whenever that may be – this newfound respect for food will fade. A recent survey conducted by Too Good To Go has revealed the warning signs.

"Almost half (46.4 per cent) of Brits are looking forward to more flexibility when it comes to food shopping, with 15 per cent looking forward to less meal planning after the lockdown has been relaxed.

"Now is a time to continue to educate everyone on the links between our daily food consumption and climate change. It is only when this knowledge becomes the driver for behaviour change that new habits will truly stick.”

You can view WRAP’s lockdown food waste survey on the organisation’s website.