Skip to content

Takeout food waste has fluctuated, due to pandemic

Restaurants are creating more of it, but people are wasting less at home.

The amount of food wasted by restaurants has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research by UK-based groups Just Eat and the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA). This increase is attributed to consumers' unpredictable ordering habits. As a result, the average cost of wasted food has grown from £111 (US$135) per restaurant per week to £148 (US$180). This, the Guardian reports, is “equivalent to a £16.7m (US$20.3m) rise for the sector as a whole since lockdown.”

At the same time, however, food waste in people's homes has decreased. Data from the preliminary part of this study, conducted in December 2019, found that the average household threw away 9 percent of what they ordered. One-quarter of people surveyed said that they always had takeout leftovers that ended up in the trash, and that the most commonly wasted items were rice and chips (meaning fries, since this is the UK). But the second phase of the study conducted in April 2020 found that that amount had shrunk to 7 percent. From Business Green:

“Nearly 60 percent of respondents in the latter survey said they have better oversight over how much food is wasted in their household since lockdown began, and more than 80 percent agreed with a statement that stockpiling and empty supermarket shelves had heightened their awareness of food waste.”

It's a tough time for restaurants. Not to mention the obvious absence of in-house clients, people's schedules have been completely thrown up in the air, making it difficult for restaurants to know what to stock and prepare. The study found that the most commonly discarded food type was cooked meals (50 percent), followed by unused fresh ingredients (43 percent). Andrew Stephen 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 £400m a year and contributing to a carbon footprint larger than the global aviation industry. Now is an opportune time for operators to review their menu, simplify processes, and design out waste.”

Lloyd's bagel restaurant© Lloyd Alter – Where Lloyd goes to pick up his bagels weekly

While restaurants struggle to sort things out on their end, we customers can do our part, too. If you live in an urban area that uses the Too Good To Go app, this helps restaurants to offload surplus food at a discount. You can look at a restaurant's Facebook or Instagram page to see what their daily special is and what they're needing to move faster than other items. You could establish a weekly standing order that, while small, contributes to a sense of stability for the restaurant, especially as more people do it. (Fellow TreeHugger writer Lloyd picks up a dozen bagels from a nearby bakery every Friday morning. The rest of us know because he tells us about it and our mouths water enviously.) You could inquire about direct sales of certain ingredients, such as the Impossible Burger, which some restaurants are now selling directly to customers to cook at home.

Restaurants are creating more of it, but people are wasting less at home.