Food waste from Scottish homes even worse for climate change than plastic waste, Zero Waste Scotland warns as it urges everyone to play their part through its new Food Waste Reduction Action Plan.

The agency issued the warning as it began work to implement its new Food Waste Reduction Action Plan, launched with the Scottish Government with the aim of reducing food waste across Scotland by a third by 2025.

When food waste ends up in landfill, it rots, producing methane – one of the most damaging greenhouse gases driving up climate change.  In the short-term methane is many times worse than carbon dioxide.

Iain Gulland, chief executive Zero Waste Scotland, said: “It might seem bizarre but scraping that leftover lasagne, mince or salad from your plate into the bin is seriously damaging the planet, because when those scraps of pasta and lettuce which you never got around to eating end up in landfill, they rot. And as they break down they emit methane, which is many times more harmful in the short-term to our climate than carbon dioxide (CO2).

“Food waste is actually a bigger cause of climate change than plastics. It is still vital that we continue to reduce plastic waste, which remains an extremely serious issue. But as more people ditch single use plastics as awareness grows of the wider impact of plastic waste, including pollution, we will send a strong message on the damage caused by binning leftovers and other wasted food.” 

Only 93,000 tonnes of the food waste collected in Scotland in 2016 was sent to dedicated food waste recycling collections, with most of the remainder sent to landfill, while around 150,000 tonnes went to home composting or ended up in sewage works after going down the drain from kitchen sinks.

Zero Waste Scotland calculated that the carbon footprint of food waste collected from Scottish households that year was nearly three times that of plastic waste collected from people's homes, at roughly 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) compared to 0.73MtCO2e.

One of the key reasons why food waste has a far greater impact on global warming is that there is much more of it, with the amount of food waste collected from Scottish households in 2016 roughly double the amount of plastic waste collected. Zero Waste Scotland figures for that year calculated that 456,000 tonnes of food waste was collected in total, compared with 224,000 tonnes of plastic waste.

The Scottish government has also launched a new advertising campaign, entitled Food Gone Bad, to help raise awareness of the impact food waste has on climate change and how to reduce it.