There are a lot of misconceptions about waste in the UK and the facts are much more staggering than you’re probably anticipating. DT Groundwork Contractors has decided to take a deep dive in the real facts about how much we waste. We’ll look at septic waste, food waste, water waste and recycling facts to get a broad view about how wasteful and damaging we really are.
As you’re probably aware, it’s very important to make sure our waste pipes are not blocked or polluting our rivers but this means you need to understand what causes these issues and how you can stop them from happening.
Obviously, a working sewer system is essential for a healthy society and clean environment, but most people still use toilets, sinks and external drains as waste bins for their food, fats, oils and solid items. When this happens on a large and regular basis, it leads to sewer blockages, localised flooding and pollution of rivers and streams. You’ll know from the news that clean up costs for events like this are high and you are the ones paying the bill.
What’s the problem?
Fats, Oils and Grease Cause Blockages
Major problems are caused in our drains and sewers by fats, oils, grease and food waste. When these products are disposed of via kitchen sinks, toilets and drains, it congeals and forms blockages in the system that can lead to flooding and pollution. Even worse, if these products enter drainage systems that carry rainwater, they can end up going straight into our streams and rivers.
Facts About Fat and our Sewage System
- 80% of sewer flooding incidents in the UK are caused by sewer blockages.
- Over 3,000 properties are flooded every year due to these blockages.
- Every year, there are around 366,000 sewer blockages in the UK and more than 75% of these are caused by fats, oils and grease, wipes, sanitary waste and other unflushable items.
- The cost of clearing sewage blockages in the UK total £88million and are covered through customer bills.
- Taking actions to protect our sewers, in turn, protects our homes, the environment and helps keep water bills down.
What is the Effect on Waste Pipes?
Over time, fats, oils and grease start to build up inside the sewer network until they become a significant problem and blockages occur.
It is estimated that water a sewerage companies in the UK respond to over 366,000 blockages every year. This number doesn’t include the several hundred thousand more that occur within people’s own pipework, which they have to pay for themselves. Roughly three-quarters of these are caused by the disposal of fats, oils and grease.
The clean up of these blockages runs up bills into the millions, a cost that is ultimately passed on to the general public through their water bills.
However, a large number of sewer blockages occur because catering establishments don’t have adequate procedures in their waste management and therefore don’t dispose of fats and food waste. In addition, the use of food macerators only contributes to the problem and the water industry itself has published its own position statement on the issue. The aim of this statement is to draw attention to the impact of the use of macerators on the sewerage system.
What is the Effect on the Environment?
Modern sewerage systems were designed to carry sewage and not these other forms of product waste. This is particularly true of sewers that carry rainwater from our roofs and other paved areas and any accumulation of waste in the drainage system will rapidly overload the network. Additionally, where storm overflows are in use, this can lead to the discharging of untreated sewage into our streams and rivers and where they do not exist, they can lead to flooding in our homes, businesses, parks, gardens and other open spaces.
Shockingly, between 33-50% of all the food that is produced globally is never actually eaten and value of the food we waster is well over $1trillion. For some perspective, approximately 1% of the total GDP of the USA is food waste. However, food waste is actually the product of a massive inefficiency in the market and this problem does not occur in most other major industries.
The Moral Wrong
Despite the fact so much food is wasted, 800million people all over the world will go to bed hungry every night. This actually works out at every 1 in 9 people on the planet who are starving or malnourished on a daily basis. Amazingly, they could all be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted yearly in the USA, UK and Europe.
The nature of our globalised food system means that the demand for food in the west drives up the price of the food that is grown in developing countries and this, in turn, displaces the growth of crops that would feed the native populations and lead to accelerated degradation of the natural habitats in those countries.
Hunger is also not just a problem that’s happening in developing countries – in the UK there are over 1 million people that need access to a food bank every year, while in the US over 40 million people live in food poverty.
Effects on the Environment
Obviously wasted food is really bad for our environment. The land mass needed to grow food that is never eaten each year would take an area larger than China. This land is the subject to deforestation, native species being driven to extinction, native populations being moved and soil that is degraded. All of this is done to produce food that is just thrown away and the food that is never eaten accounts for about 25% of global freshwater consumption.
In addition to the food being wasted, the resources that went into it is also wasted. This includes land, water, labour, energy, manufacturing and packaging. When the wasted food goes to landfill it decomposes without access to the oxygen it needs and produces methane, which is 23 times more deadly than carbon dioxide.
No matter which way you look at the food we waste, the major culprit is the destruction of our planet and if food waste was a country, it would be be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after giants like China and the USA.
It’s very easy for people to dismiss the notion of food waste as someone else’s problem, they say “I don’t waste any food”, or for us to focus only on the more visible and shocking examples of waste. For example, unharvested fields where produce is ploughed back into the ground the waste that is found in supermarket skips.
However, in reality, the developed world, more than 50% of all food that is wasted happens in our own homes and by contrast, less than 2% of food that is waster happens at a retail store level.
Food Waste Facts
- Over one-third of all of the food that is produced globally is wasted.
- The value of annual food waste globally is over $1trillion and it weighs over 1.3billion tonnes.
- The entire world’s nearly 1billion starving people could be fed with just a quarter of the food that is wasted by nations like the US, UK and Europe.
- It takes an area that is larger than China to grow food that is never eaten.
- Nearly 25% of the entire world’s fresh water supply is used to grow the food that is wasted every year.
- If our food waste was its own country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, closely following China and the USA.
- In the most developed countries, over half of all food that is wasted takes place in people’s homes.
- While food that is wasted at a retail level accounts for only 2% of all food waste.
- The cost of food waste to the average family is worth more than £700 a year for the average UK household and this number is even greater the USA with a figure of $2,275.
- By 2050, there will be over 2.3billion people on the planet and this will require our global food production to increase by 60-70%, but this could be offset if we wasted less food.