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Food Waste and Climate Change

If we’re serious about climate change then we all need to stop wasting food.


If we’re serious about climate change then we all need to stop wasting food. After the national greenhouse gas emissions of China and the US, global food waste is the next biggest single factor when it comes to the world’s carbon footprint, making up 6-8% of the global total.

A staggering one-third of all greenhouse emissions globally come from the agricultural sector, and a third of all the food the UK purchases ends up wasted. That’s 1.8 billion tonnes of it every year. In the US alone, producing food that’s subsequently wasted generates the equivalent of 32.6million cars’ worth of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The developed world is the main culprit when it comes to food waste. As the world population grows, with more people wanting to access to the kind of lifestyles enjoyed in high income countries, the upward pressure on food waste is likely to increase.

Food waste in the UK

The UK has a serious food waste problem. Across the country, an incredible 6.6million tonnes of food waste including fruits and vegetables comes from our homes every year. This costs companies and the end consumer £14 billion. This is 4.5million tonnes of food produced that could have been eaten, which roughly equates to around eight meals per household every week.

The edible aspect of household food waste alone is responsible for 14 million tonnes of CO2. This is as much greenhouse gas as is produced by flying from London to Perth over 4.5 million times.

The methane problem

While it might be tempting to think that most of our food waste is organic and will quickly decompose back into the soil, that’s not the case. If you compost your peelings, apple cores and eggshells and then use them in your garden then that’s positive. However, this is only a fraction of the overall food waste that’s generated.

In the UK we discard around a million tonnes of potatoes, bread and milk. This either ends up going down the sink or into landfills, which are slowly filling up with food. This can take a considerable time to decompose completely.

Waste in landfills also creates other problems, not least methane a greenhouse gas. Organic materials such as food scraps are broken down by bacteria which produces methane. As a greenhouse gas, methane is more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, it has a global warming potential of 21 times that of carbon dioxide. If we’re serious about tackling climate change then reducing methane has to be a key part of the process and saving food waste will be a key part of that agenda.

Taking action to reduce food waste

It’s clear that a vast amount of food, money and resources are being wasted needlessly every year. Reducing food loss and waste could have a significant impact on our collective global emissions, saving us money and freeing up resources.

Reducing the amount of food wasted can not only save you money it can also help to bring down our collective carbon footprint. Love Food Hate Waste is a great source of advice and inspiration when it comes to doing just that.

While households can all play their part, much of the work will need to be done at a structural level. Anaerobic digestion is one means by which local authorities, companies and other organisations can recycle large amounts of food and animal waste.

It works through a complex biological process that breaks down organic matter without the need for air in large, insulated and completely sealed vessels. Food waste enters the sealed vessel where it’s then processed into a liquid porridge, which is then pumped into the anaerobic digestion plant. Bacteria feed on the food waste producing biogas, which is then captured and used as fuel in CHP engines or can be sent through a gas filter directly into the gas grid.

What remains, is a digestate or biofertiliser which is made safe through pasteurisation and is then stored, ready to be applied to farmland. It creates a high nutrient fertiliser which replaces the need for fossil-fuel derived fertilisers. Anaerobic digestion, therefore, helps to both capture and reduce carbon and energy usage.

BioteCH4 is one of the leading AD operators in the UK and are at the forefront of tackling food waste in the UK. Across our 6 sites, we handle the collection and transportation of food waste, oils and fats recycling.

Contact us to find out more about our services.

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