UK households reduce takeaway food waste by £3.2 million a week during lockdown - but waste in restaurants rises

Just Eat and the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) have today released research which shines a light on the ‘true cost’ of food waste from takeaways in the UK, and reveals how the impact of COVID-19 has changed our approach to the amount of food wasted.

The new research finds a huge £1.8bn worth of takeaway food is thrown away every year in the UK. Of that, £376m worth of food waste occurs in takeaway outlets while households account for £1.4bn in wasted takeaway food across the year.

Since lockdown measures were introduced however, Just Eat has found that UK households have saved an average of 3.2m a week by making the most of the food they’re ordering. Meanwhile fluctuations in demand and unpredictable ordering patterns have led to a slight increase in food waste generated in takeaway restaurants rising from an average of £111 to £148 per week per restaurant, a £16.7m rise for the sector as a whole during lockdown.

In response to the findings, Just Eat and the SRA have come together to encourage consumers to build on the positive habits they’ve adopted in recent months - with tasty new recipes for dishes they can cook at home to use up the most commonly wasted takeaway food items - from chips and noodles to naan bread - and tips and tricks on how to safely store and use up the leftovers from their favourite foods. For restaurants, Just Eat is giving its partners insights and data to help them better anticipate lockdown fluctuations, and sharing guidance from the SRA and WRAP’s Guardians of the Grub campaign to help them evaluate their kitchen set ups and be as food waste savvy as possible.

Over the past few months, Just Eat and the SRA have been working together to understand the true scale of food waste in the UK takeaway sector and conducted joint research in December 2019. This was followed by a second wave of research in April to understand how attitudes towards food waste, both in the household and restaurants, have changed since lockdown.

The 2019 data from Just Eat reveals that an average household threw away nearly one tenth (9%) of takeaway food they ordered. One in four consumers (25%) said that more than half the time they ordered a takeaway, they had leftovers that ended up in the bin. The most common cause of this was unintentionally ordering larger portions than they needed (43%), with rice and chips the most commonly wasted foods.

The 2019 data also reveals that in restaurants, by far the most common reason for food being thrown away was overproduction of meals (46%). Cooked meals were the most thrown away food type (50%), ahead of unused fresh ingredients (43%).

Just Eat is encouraging its restaurant partners to use Too Good To Go, an app which helps businesses reduce food waste by enabling them to sell their surplus food to consumers for a discounted price.

Ben Carter, Global Director of Restaurants & Strategic Partnerships at Just Eat said:

"Our research shows that tackling food waste is one of the most effective ways we can reduce our impact on the environment, with the added benefit of saving everyone money too. With coronavirus changing so much about the way we all live, this felt like an important time to encourage positive behaviour change and support our partners and customers to tackle food waste both in the restaurant and at home.
"Many UK takeaway restaurants and consumers are already taking this seriously and we're committed to using our scale to support them to go even further. From providing top tips to reduce food waste to sharing creative recipe ideas, we want to ensure everyone can enjoy their favourite takeaway with no waste."
Robin Clark, Director of Global Restaurant Services and Sustainability at Just Eat, said:

"Reducing avoidable food waste is one of the easiest ways we can tackle the carbon footprint of takeaway meals and make a positive impact on the environment. With food delivery services more vital now than ever and restaurants operating on tighter budgets, it feels like the right time to help our partners tackle the food wasted in their kitchens.
“There’s lots that Just Eat can do to play our part - from providing insights around ordering patterns to help restaurants better plan their sourcing and preparation to offering some simple-to-follow tips for professional kitchens. We’re aiming to encourage positive, sustainable change that will benefit restaurants’ bottom lines and our planet.”

Andrew Stephen, Chief Executive of the SRA, said:

”No business in its right mind wants to see its core product end up in the bin, especially not when it’s costing almost £400 million a year and contributing to a carbon footprint larger than the global aviation industry.
“It’s so easy to over order and under think when ordering in, so we hope that some easy to follow food waste hacks will help the nation turn tonight’s takeaway into tomorrow’s lunch and maintain diners’ newfound awareness of how they eat and order.”
Peter Maddox, Director WRAP, said:

“The findings from Just Eat’s survey are useful insights into some of the triggers of food waste within the takeaway sector. I know from our own research that people are more concerned about the cost food waste has on their pockets and the planet. We are pleased to support Just Eat and the SRA with resources from our Guardians of Grub campaign for businesses to freely use, as well as advice for those at home from Love Food Hate Waste.”


Notes to Editors

Insights from Just Eat & SRA survey on takeaway food waste:

Restaurant Insights

Survey conducted by Prevision in December 2019:

  • Restaurants on average wasted just over £111 per week on food
  • That makes up around 9% of their total spend on food
  • If we apply that to the 65,000 restaurants in the takeaway sector, that represents a food waste bill of £376m per year
  • Nearly three quarters said that they were making more of a conscious effort to reduce waste than in previous years, mostly because of costs and environmental concerns
  • 20% of leftover food was thrown away while 23% went into the food waste bin.
  • The most common reason for food being thrown away was overproduction of meals.
  • The most common food stuff that was thrown away was cooked meals themselves, followed by fresh fruit/veg and cooked chips.

Survey conducted by Just Eat in April 2020:

  • Food waste cost has increased - going from an average of £111 per week to an average of £148 per week. This means that food waste has increased slightly from 9% of all waste to 10%, since pre-lockdown.
  • If we factor this up to represent the 65,000 restaurants in the takeaway sector, this comes up to a total of a £16.7m increase in food waste costs since lockdown.
  • The number one reason for waste was because of "fluctuations/unpredictable consumer ordering patterns". This was mentioned by over half (54%) of all restaurants. Disrupted supply chain and business models were on par at 38% and 36% respectively.
  • 45% of restaurants said they throw most food waste into the bin. Other responses showed that restaurants are giving away food too, either to their staff or to vulnerable or homeless people.

Consumer Insights

Survey conducted by Kantar in December 2019:

Amount of food waste

  • According to consumers, 9% of the takeaways they ordered were thrown away on average. This represents a food waste bill for UK households of £1.4bn.
  • Top five most common items to be thrown included: rice, chips, pizza crusts, sauce/condiments and salad
  • Nearly 1 in 4 people more than half the time/ every time had leftovers from a takeaway that ended up in the bin.

Reasons for food waste

  • Large portion sizes was the biggest reason for food waste (43%).
  • About a fifth of customers ate the leftovers later but it was more common for them to go in the bin, the food waste bin or the compost
  • Nearly 1 in 4 people more than half the time/ every time had leftovers from a takeaway that ended up in the bin
  • 45% of respondents reported throwing away items not asked for
  • Only 50% of people checked what was in their fridge to make sure they use up anything approaching its use by date before ordering a takeaway

Consumer attitudes to food waste

  • Food waste is a source of guilt for consumers, with 38% saying they felt guilty about throwing food away
  • Nearly 60% of respondents would request to not have commonly thrown away items included in the meal if it was possible
  • 84% of consumers said that they make a conscious effort to reduce food waste.
  • The main reason consumers gave for wanting to reduce waste was they wanted to reduce their environmental impact (45%).

Survey conducted by Kantar in April 2020:

  • According to consumers, they are now wasting less of their takeaway. Before lockdown it was 9% of their takeaway on average, now it is 7.2%.
  • This means that UK households have been saving themselves £3.2m per week since lockdown by being more careful with their takeaway food waste. Over the period of lockdown, this adds up to £22.4m altogether.
  • 59% of consumers say that they have a greater oversight over how much food is wasted since Covid-19.
  • There is also agreement that food shortages have heightened awareness of food waste. 84% agree with the statement: “Stockpiling and empty supermarket shelves showed me how important it is to make the most of what we have”.
  • This waste is most likely to go direct into the bin. 34% say they throw the waste in the main bin and 39% in the food waste bin. Reusing leftover food from takeaways is still less likely.
  • The main reason for takeaway food waste is still that the portions were too big.