How Much Bread Do We Waste in the UK?

bread waste

When you think of food waste, what do you think of? Piles of fruit and veg rejected at the farm gate due to supermarket beauty standards? Overflowing bins at the back of restaurants? Your kids plate after they’ve decided their favourite food is no longer their favourite food?

One thing you might not have considered is bread waste. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more bread wasted than you might think.

We waste 900,000 tonnes of bread every year in the UK. This equates to around 24 million slices, or 1 million loaves, every day. Or, almost 9 billion slices a year. That’s a LOT of bread waste. In fact, almost half of all bread produced here in the UK, 44%, is thrown away.

WRAP, resource efficiency experts say that bread is the second most wasted edible food in the UK. It’s beaten only by that other common staple, the potato.

Which begs the question. Why are our favourite foods being wasted on such a massive scale?

Who’s Wasting All This Bread?

The reasons behind this shocking volume of waste are varied. According to Tesco, 44% of all white sliced bread is wasted. If we take the humble white loaf, around 23% of it is wasted in our homes. And it’s easily done.

How many times have you thrown away bread that’s gone stale or mouldy? What about the crusts? Crusts are a necessary part of the baking process, but those two edible bread ends are so commonly thrown away.

Less than 1% (again, according to Tesco) of white sliced bread is wasted in supermarkets. But before it reaches the shelves, 5% of waste is attributed to field losses and 16% is put down to production losses.

bread waste - sliced white bread

Why Is There So Much Bread Waste?

The supermarkets might claim to only contribute to 1% of bread wastage (this still amounts to 10,000 loaves a day). But are they simply passing the buck?

Making sure their shelves are stocked high with fresh bread often means that there’s a lot left over. And so in comes the Deal of the Day. Half price, buy one get a million free. If they simply ordered less, then there wouldn’t be so much leftover.

Because of the supermarket fears over having only moderately stocked shelves, we get drawn into these deals. We buy up cheap bread because, well, it’s a bargain, right?

Then what happens?

Yep, we can’t eat it all before it goes mouldy, and we throw it away. Then we go shopping for more, and the cycle continues.

And what about all those crusts? A whopping 1.2 billion crusts are thrown away each year in the UK. We’ve become accustomed to not using them and at best, we throw them out for the birds.

Then there’s the waste from bakeries. At the end of each day, all those leftover loaves, rolls and baguettes routinely end up being discarded.

When there’s millions of individuals and families living in food poverty in the UK, how is this acceptable?

What can we do to help reduce this awful level of waste?

bread waste - chunks of bread on chopping board

Using Your Loaf (and Your Freezer)

To really make an impact, simply buy less bread. Don’t be tempted by deals on loaves of bread if you know it’s only going to go to waste. (Or you’re in charge of the half time sandwiches at your local football club for example.)

Another, simple yet effective way is to make use of your freezer! Did you know that you can make toast straight from the freezer? Break off a slice and pop it straight in the toaster. It might take half a minute longer but it’ll all get used up.

Now, what about those crusts? We urge you to fall in love with crusts. They’re really not worthy of the useless reputation they’ve earned. Toasted with a thick layer of butter, they rival any thinner, less ‘crusty’ piece of bread.

Brown bread is full of healthy carbs and B vitamins. So maybe ditch buying the white bread altogether and opt for brown. The supermarkets will soon cotton on and start stocking more brown over white. (And they’ll stop stocking so much altogether if we just buy less.)

Keep a brown loaf in the freezer and have a slice with peanut butter as a healthy, protein fuelled snack.

There’s now even a campaign to eat more crusts. Called Save a Crust, there’s workshops galore in North London. They teach participants how to use up crusts in varied recipes.

If you’re not in London or don’t fancy a workshop, there’s plenty of inspiration online.

Your couple of crusts in the bin each week might not seem like much. But they’re contributing to that 1.2 billion, and that isn’t good.

Brands Leading the Charge

As well as reducing your own household’s bread waste, you can get behind brands passionate about reducing bread waste.

The amount of bread and other baked goods wasted each year in the UK is enough to lift 26 million people out of malnutrition. This is according to Toast Ale, innovative beer brewers.

Toast Ale is aiming to significantly reduce the amount of bread tossed away each year. How? By rescuing bread that would otherwise go to waste and using it to brew beer.

So passionate are they about this cause that they hope to put themselves out of business. Founder Tristram Stuart says, “The day there’s no wasted bread is the day Toast Pale Ale can no longer exist”.

You can even make your own Toast Ale by following their tried and tested method. The birds in your garden might wonder where their lunch is. But at least you’ll have some beer to raise a toast with…

Food redistribution charities such as FareShare and the Felix Project are also helping. They collect unwanted yet edible food including bread from supermarkets and eateries. They then redistribute them to their charity partners.

These partners include homeless shelters, hostels, breakfast clubs and community centres. Volunteers and staff then turn this unloved food into tasty, nourishing meals for those in need.

bread waste - slices of rye bread

Sandwich, Anyone?

Let’s embrace our bread and eat our crusts (we’re told that curly hair is back in vogue now anyway). Let’s only buy what we need and make the effort to use up bread that’s gone stale.

A bread and butter pudding for dessert doesn’t sound like that much of a chore, does it? Especially not when washed down with a Toast Ale or two.

How much bread do we waste?