Supermarkets and other retailers are being urged to cut down on buy one, get one free (BOGOF) special offers by the Local Government Association (LGA) in order to help reduce the £13.7 billion cost of discarded, perfectly good food and drink every year.

The LGA has conducted research which estimates that, when the cost of sending thrown-away food to landfill is taken into account, households lost the equivalent of around £520 each through wasted food and drink over the past 12 months.

The organisation puts part of the blame on the way that retailers promote the sale of perishable goods such as fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat.

An amazing 40% of groceries sold are currently on promotion or special offer – more than ever before.

Council leaders are therefore asking them to stop multi-buy deals, which encourage consumers to take home more than they need, and replace them with discounts on individual products, which offer customers the same value without encouraging them to over-buy.

“The average family in England spent £520 last year on food and drink which wasn’t eaten," said Cllr Clyde Loakes, LGA environment board vice chairman. "That is a heart breaking figure in a world where hundreds of millions of people go hungry every day.

“While campaigns like Love Food, Hate Waste (promoted by WRAP) are encouraging people to make better use of the food they buy, the source of the problem is not being adequately addressed. BOGOF deals, which give consumers a few days to munch through 16 clementines, are not about providing value for money. They are about transferring waste out of retail operations and into the family home.”

The estimated cost and tonnage of food waste was calculated using the latest existing figures on avoidable waste">latest existing figures on avoidable waste published by WRAP for food and non-alcoholic beverages in 2007/08. This totalled 5.07 million tonnes and £11.2 billion.

The LGA is calling on retailers to set more ambitious waste reduction goals to bring them into line with the big improvements in waste management being introduced by local authorities and households.

Retailers and manufacturers claim that they have prevented 670,000 tonnes of food waste since they entered the voluntary Courtauld Commitment to tackle waste in 2005. The total amount of packaging waste being produced each year since 2005 has remained the same. 

In that same time councils and residents have reduced annual landfill by more than 7 million tonnes and almost doubled the recycling rate from 22% of all household waste to nearly 40%. Despite those achievements local authorities will still pay more than £550 million in landfill tax this financial year as they put more than 10 million tonnes of waste in the ground.

The total cost of throwing away avoidable food waste was calculated by adding the total cost of landfill to the total cost of food waste, but the British Retail Consortium said this is unfair and called instead of councils to improve their rubbish collection services to prevent food waste going to landfill.

Head of environment Bob Gordon said: “There’s a simple solution to the problem of food waste going to landfill. Local councils need to collect it separately so it can be turned into compost or helped to biodegrade."

He defended their practice by saying that supermarket special offers were valued by customers. “The traditional BOGOF has moved with the times – people can often choose their free item from a range of goods, and some stores do buy one, get one free later."

He also underlined that all of the UK’s supermarkets actively support WRAP’s Love Food, Hate Waste campaign.

Friends of the Earth commented that in fact councils, retailers and the government all needed to play a more active role in tackling food waste. Its resource use campaigner Julian Kirby added: "This staggering figure shows the avoidable cost to councils and households of Britain's food waste mountain.

The LGA projects the total household waste landfill tonnage (all waste types) and the tax costs to local authorities in England, based on Defra's Local Authority collected Waste Management figures, as follows: