Food waste and hunger in the UK

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of good food is wasted by the UK food industry every year. At the same time, millions of people are struggling to afford to eat. Our work addresses these two issues by redistributing food industry surplus, which would otherwise go to waste, to the people who need it most. Find facts and figures on food waste and hunger in the UK below.

Illustration of an empty plate.

8.4 million people in the UK are struggling to afford to eat

This is equivalent to the entire population of London

Hunger in the UK

4.7 million of these people live in severely food insecure homes. This means that their food intake is greatly reduced and children regularly experience physical sensations of hunger.

UN figures also show that 5.6% of people aged 15 or over struggle to get enough food. A further 4.5% report that they have been a full day without anything to eat.

Our own research shows that 46% of people accessing the services of our charity partners have gone a whole day without a proper meal in the last month.

Figures from FAO UN, Voices of the Hungry, 2016

Illustration of pile of fruit and vegetables including pineapples, bananas and carrots


1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted by the food industry every year in the UK

Food waste in the food industry

By “food industry” we mean all businesses involved in the supply of food. It includes everyone from farmers and growers to manufacturers and processors to wholesalers, retailers and food service companies.

Figures from WRAP, Quantification of food surplus, 2016


Illustration of food on a plate

250,000 tonnes of the food that goes to waste each year is still edible


That’s enough for 650 million meals

Surplus food in the supply chain

We call food that isn’t going to be sold, but which is still edible, surplus food. Food becomes surplus for simple reasons such as over-production, labeling errors or short shelf-life. Surplus food occurs everywhere in the supply chain from field through to fork. Here’s a breakdown of where it occurs and how much:

  • Farms: 100,000-500,000 tonnes
  • Processing and manufacturing: 52,000-160,000 tonnes
  • Wholesale and distribution: 80,000-120,000 tonnes
  • Retail: 47,000-110,000 tonnes

Figures from WRAP, Surplus food redistribution in the UK 2015-2017, 2018


Inverted triangle divided into five layers. Each layer has a different option for what you should do with food that cannot be sold, starting with the most preferable option at the top. The top option is Reduce, followed by Feed People in Need, followed by Feed Livestock followed by Compost and Renewable Energy followed by Disposal.

The waste hierarchy calls for food to feed people first

It is a legal requirement for UK companies to operate according to these principles

Feed people first

The waste hierarchy sets out five steps for dealing with waste, ranked according to their environmental impact. It states that surplus food should be used to feed people first before it is sent to animal feed or energy.

Currently in the UK, instead of surplus food being used to feed people, many food manufacturers, processors and suppliers dispose of that food via anaerobic digestion (AD) or provide it for animal feed. There are currently a number of Government incentives to support AD. While we support this, these same incentives do not exist for feeding people – so we’re asking the Government to bring in a level playing field and ensure that it is cheaper for food businesses to redistribute food than to throw it away.