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Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted around the world, according to WRAP, a climate action NGO. In the UK, the group says, we throw away 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste a year, of which almost three quarters could have been eaten.
Speciality Food looks into our current commitments on food waste and what they mean for independent retailers.
In line with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, the government has committed to halving the UK’s per capita food waste by 2030.
The Courtauld Commitment 2030 is a voluntary agreement in the food and drink industry that was created to deliver farm-to-fork reductions in food waste, as well as greenhouse gas emissions and water stress.
In 2018, WRAP and IGD developed a roadmap for how the UK food industry would halve food waste by 2030. As of December 2022, 351 organisations in the UK had committed to cutting their food waste.
“The Food Waste Reduction Roadmap has made significant progress in the four years since launch, often against the backdrop of a hugely challenging external environment. This goes to show the genuine drive our industry has to create tangible, positive change on the issues that matter to us all,” said Mark Little, director of health and sustainability programmes at IGD.
While there is strong support for food waste rules, in recent weeks the government was criticised for scrapping legislation that would have made food waste reporting mandatory for large and medium-sized businesses in England.
Defra told the Guardian newspaper, “A regulatory approach which we estimate to cost businesses around £5.3m is not suitable in the current economic climate, especially when any additional costs may be passed on to consumers.”
However, Martin Bowman, senior policy and campaigns manager at Feedback, claimed a reduction in food waste would “more than offset the costs of measurement and reporting, saving millions of pounds, and helping struggling families by lowering food inflation”.
Food waste reporting is widely accepted by the food and drink industry. Last year, a consultation by the government found 99% of respondents expressed support for the proposed law, including 79% of retailers and 73% of hospitality services. Campaigners and large retailers including Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado have expressed disappointment and fears that the backtracking will mean the UK doesn’t achieve its 2030 environmental goals.
WRAP’s senior specialist for food waste, Sue Riley, told Speciality Food smaller retailers can join a ‘Target, Measure, Act’ approach to tackling food waste that’s used by both the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap and Courtauld 2030, as it is applicable to businesses of all sizes.
Following a recent refresh of WRAP’s roadmap, there is now a checklist available for retailers, which, Sue said, acts as a ‘Quick Start/What to do next’ guide with links to relevant resources and guidance.
Small retailers can also get involved by collaborating with suppliers, brands and customers. “The three key elements of ‘Act’ are reducing operational waste, supply chain collaboration and helping people to waste less food in their homes,” Sue said.
There are multiple benefits to collaboration, according to Zero Waste Scotland, which helps businesses in Scotland benchmark their food waste.
“Because food waste is such a big contributor to Scotland’s climate footprint, tackling food waste is one of the most impactful things businesses can do to reduce their contribution to climate change,” the group told Speciality Food. “Businesses are in a great position to lead by example. Brands can influence consumers to do their bit, as well as catalysing positive change in their supply chains.”
These steps can be as simple as taking part in awareness days like Food Waste Action Week to supporting staff to reduce their food waste at home to ensuring you’re using best practice guidance for product labelling and storage.
For example, cheese care and storage is something many customers have questions about, so retailers could consider sharing advice with their customers.
“Citizens are increasingly calling for brands to ‘walk the talk’ on sustainability, and reducing food waste is a great opportunity for businesses to respond to that demand,” explains Evonne Cannan, food systems and circular bioeconomy manager at Zero Waste Scotland, told Speciality Food.
“In doing so, there’s potential to increase customer loyalty and gain a competitive edge – as well as saving money by avoiding throwing good food in the bin. Preventing food waste is one of the most impactful things we can all do to reduce our contribution to the climate crisis, and businesses have a really vital role to play in making that change.”