New data highlights the hidden carbon and water cost of food waste, as charity claims the issue has been ‘frozen out’ of COP

If food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of carbon globally, yet the issue has been largely ignored in climate discussions at COP, according to food charity FareShare.

“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.”

James Persad, Head of Marketing and Engagement at FareShare

In the UK, food waste accounts for between 6 and 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with an estimated 2m tonnes of perfectly edible food needlessly wasted on UK farms and in factories every year, instead of being sent to charities and community groups.

The charity is has released new data from the Carbon Trust, showing that, for every 1 tonne of edible food redistributed to people, instead of wasted, 1.6 tonnes of embedded CO2e within that food will not have been emitted in vain. The independent research quantifies, for the first time, ‘hidden’ carbon embedded within the life cycle of the food FareShare redistributes, arising from the energy used in everything from cultivation and harvesting to packaging and transportation.

The research also finds that, for every 1 tonne of food sent to charities, the needless loss of 1,525,000 litres of water needed to produce that food will also be avoided. Last year FareShare redistributed over 35,000 tonnes of surplus food, avoiding the waste of over 53bn litres of water (more than the combined annual water usage of everyone in Birmingham and Coventry).

James Persad, Head of Marketing and Engagement at FareShare, said: “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 government to take this issue seriously and commit to fair funding to enable food businesses do the right thing, morally and environmentally, with their surplus food.”

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