Bread waste is off the scale

13 Feb Bread waste is off the scale

What comes to mind when you think of bread waste?

Depending on your preference, it may be uneaten slices of soft, white – now blue – pre-packaged bread or it may be crusts of artisan loaves that are too hard even for the toaster (still makes great eggy-bread with a good soak!). It all adds up over a year, and over multiple households…

Bread is top of the list of our most wasted household food items.  We waste almost 900,000 tonnes of bread every year – around 24 million slices every day. In terms of calories, that’s enough to lift over 26 million people out of hunger.

What’s less visible is the bread that’s wasted before we even buy it. A lifecycle analysis by Tesco, the only supermarket that discloses its food waste statistics, found that 34% – 44% of all bread produced in the UK is wasted and that only half of that occurs in our homes. Cereals are lost in the field due to crop damage, cancelled orders or other unforeseen circumstances, and in the factories of food processors during the production of bakery products. Bread is wasted by sandwich makers who discard the heel end of loaves. In 2008, Tristram discovered that a single sandwich manufacturer was wasting 13,000 slices every day because the retail customer required it to remove the crust and first slice from every loaf they used – adding up to 17% of the loaf lost. At the end of the supply chain, retailers dispose of loaves that are damaged or past their sell-by-date, even though they are usually perfectly edible. Just ask a freegan!

What’s happens to this ‘waste’?
Some supply chain surplus, such as pre-packed sandwiches, is redistributed to food charities like Fareshare. This gets the big thumbs up from us and we always check that the bread we take cannot be better used to feed people. The Trussel Trust estimates that over a million people used a food bank in the UK last year, so let’s make sure unavoidable surplus of good quality food goes to feeding people.

Bakery waste is sometimes used as animal feed and we fully support initiatives that manage and regulate feeding livestock with food that is unsuitable for human consumption. The Pig Idea seeks to lift the EU ban on feeding catering waste to pigs, which has resulted in pigs being fed crops that people could otherwise eat. The increase in demand puts pressure on global food supplies, exacerbates global food price volatility, and contributes to global hunger, deforestation and pollution. Waste bread is actually legally permissable as pig feed but there’s a lot of misunderstanding so too little ends up in the bellies of animals.

Mostly, food waste ends up in landfill, or is used for composting or anaerobic digestion. The latter are much better options to landfill, but they are costly methods of disposal. They are also inefficient conversions of the resources used to produce food; food is high in water content so doesn’t make a great fuel.



Of course, bread is just a part of the story. A pixel in the food waste picture. Globally, a third of all food produced – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes per year – gets lost or wasted in the food production and consumption systems. In the UK, we waste 15 million tonnes every year.

Food production is the single biggest impact that humanity has had on the environment. If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third-greatest emitter of GHG emissions.  Growing food also uses land and water resources. The land use footprint of food that is never eaten is 1.4bn hectares, 28% of the world’s agricultural land area. The blue water footprint is 250km3, three times the volume of Lake Geneva.

What can we do?

Simply, we should buy only what we need and eat what we buy. Ignore best before labels and trust our senses. Freeze bread that we anticipate we won’t use up before it goes bad. Be a little creative in the kitchen with classic uses for stale bread. We should also use our purchasing power to put pressure on retailers and caterers to reduce their waste and waste further up the supply chain, to redistribute to food charities and to support the Pig Idea.

Toast ale uses bread that would otherwise be thrown away by bakeries, delicatessens and sandwich makers, keeping it in the human food chain and reducing demand for more food production. Beer is an excellent way of preserving the calorific goodness of bread and significantly extending its life. We use at least one slice in every bottle, more if you are a thin slice kinda person. It’s replaces 40% of the malt typically used, and helps hop utilisation. And it produces a delicious ale with sweet caramel notes that we balance with tangy, bitter hops.

We’re just one part of the solution to food waste, but we hope we will make a massive dent by proving that the solution is delicious.

All our profits go to the charity Feedback to support the fight against food waste.