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The rotten truth about household food waste

According to the Modern Life is Rubbish report published this week by Sainsbury’s, every year British households throw away an astonishing 7 million tonnes of food, 4.2 million tonnes of which could be saved with more careful planning and better portion control.

The report is based on results from a Populus survey of 5,050 people across the UK, which aimed to uncover the attitudes leading to such a vast amount of useable food being binned every day.

Key factors influencing waste behaviour

The survey uncovered four main influencers shaping a culture whereby throwing away perfectly good food has become the norm, so much so that only 3% of people feel there’s a social stigma attached to wasting food.


There is a definite need for education surrounding food waste. This is made apparent by stark misconceptions about the financial implications of throwing away useable food.

The findings show that shoppers believe only 10% of their monthly food bill is spent on avoidable waste (£400), when in fact it is costing families £700 a year.

People are also unaware of the potential savings they could be making with simple behavioural changes. For example, 70% of shoppers don’t think list-writing could save money. However, those who do write lists spend £145 less on household food every year.


While people seem to be aware of ways they could reduce food waste, such as cooking with leftovers, this is not reflected in their behaviour. For example, three quarters of people say they are confident cooking meals from leftovers, however two fifths (37%) still don’t bother to use them.

Role models

The findings indicate a need for a leading voice when it comes to reducing food waste in our homes. 40% of people say they do not know who to look to for guidance on how to reduce food waste. This is particularly the case for younger generations. In fact, nearly half (47%) of those aged 18-24 admitted to a lack of knowledge in the kitchen, compared to just 12% of over 65s.


One need only peruse Instagram to realise that we are becoming a nation that ‘lives to eat’ rather than ‘eats to live’. Millennials in particular identify with this, with 55% saying they ‘live to eat’, compared with just 33% of over 35s.

The desire to follow the latest foodie trends is contributing to food waste. According to the results 86% of us admit to buying ingredients for a specific recipe, knowing we will struggle to use it again. Over a third (39%) of over 65s blame the cult of celebrity chefs for these wasteful habits because they encourage people to buy unusual or hard-to-use ingredients. This is compared to just 17% of 25 – 34 year olds.

Waste less, Save more

The findings from our survey clearly show that something needs to change.

In order to drive this shift in attitudes and behaviours, Sainsbury’s launched the Waste Less, Save more scheme in 2015; a £10m investment over 5 years to help customers reduce food waste in the home. The project kicked off with a 12-month trial in Swadlincote, South Derbyshire, where a number of initiatives were tested in the hope of helping the town reduce its food waste by 50% in one year.

The trial has already proven extremely successful with initiatives such as fridge thermometers, food waste logging apps, smart fridges and community engagement programmes all triggering changes in peoples’ behaviour.

Key learnings from the Swadlincote trial will be used to shape collaborations with further towns, retailers, business and public bodies across the UK.

Read the full Modern Life is Rubbish report.

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