Food security: demand, consumption and waste - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

4  Tackling food waste

Reducing food waste

32. According to WRAP, 15 million tonnes of food are wasted each year, of which nine million tonnes is avoidable.[59] Food wastage can occur at any stage of the food chain from farm to fork. Half the UK's food waste (around seven million tonnes) occurs in the home, with the average UK household throwing away the equivalent of six meals every week at a cost of £250-£400 a year.[60] In total, £12.5 billion of food bought by consumers is wasted each year.[61] Some 22% of the edible fresh produce bought by householders is not eaten.[62] Retail and distribution operations produce only 3% of the UK's food waste (0.4 million tonnes annually) with manufacturing generating some 27% (4 million tonnes a year).[63] Programmes such as those run by WRAP have driven reductions of 21% in avoidable household food waste since 2007.[64] However, there is a need to decrease levels further, not least to meet EU targets of reducing food waste by 30% by 2025 (compared to 2007).[65] Since the inquiry finished taking evidence, the EU Commission has published a work programme for 2015 under which the circular economy proposals which covered food waste have been withdrawn, pending revised proposals to be produced in 2015.

33. Retailers told us that commercial pressures meant they had developed effective distribution, storage and retail operations so that there was very little wastage at these stages. Tesco reported that it had reduced waste to less than 1% of products in its stores and distribution centres.[66] Morrisons also had low levels of such waste, at 0.3% of sales value in its stores.[67] Nonetheless, FareShare noted that even tiny percentages of waste from food companies with large-scale systems could represent a significant amount of food wasted.[68] Retailers told us they were working with their suppliers to reduce waste early in the supply chain. For example, Tesco cited its advance commitment to purchase 80% of its suppliers' grapes to give growers certainty their produce would be bought and told us about its work to reduce the wastage of potatoes through a range of measures including reviewing customer preferences when making decisions on which varieties to order.[69]

34. Morrisons is one of many retailers and other organisations supporting the Courtauld Commitment which has delivered reductions in food waste over three phases to date.[70] In parallel, the voluntary Hospitality and Food Service Agreement is delivering improvements in that sector,[71] including packaging reductions of 2.5%, food and packaging recycling increases of 7%, and a 23% increase in food for redistribution. However, the Sustainable Restaurant Association told us that half a kilo of waste is generated from each restaurant meal with some 30% of the annual 600,000 tonnes of restaurant waste coming directly from diners' plates. The Association argued for more widespread practical approaches that enable customers to waste less, such as the use of doggie bags.[72]

35. WRAP noted the importance of influencing consumer choices and of the supply chain supporting optimum behaviours through the way food is promoted, designed, packaged and labelled.[73] The organisation had adopted a set of principles for helping consumers to change behaviours including using real-life examples and making advice clear, without over-simplifying it. Key moments of change in people's lives, such as house moves or the departure of teenagers for college, could be opportunities to shift behaviours. Underpinning WRAP's approach was an overall aim to change culture such that it is not seen as normal to waste food.[74]

36. Witnesses such as food critic Jay Rayner had some specific suggestions for reducing retail food waste, such as banning the sale of bagged fruit and vegetables in supermarkets, or putting a levy on waste.[75] The promotion by supermarkets of multi-buy deals such as 'buy one get one free' offers has been highly criticised by many commentators.[76] However, WRAP noted that there were now fewer such offers and there was no clear evidence they were a key source of household food waste.[77] Mark Linehan from the Sustainable Restaurant Association referred to approaches in the Netherlands where the second product of a multi-buy deal could be obtained at a later date, enabling consumers to have products with a greater shelf-life.[78]

37. The Government set out its views on waste reduction in its response to an April 2014 House of Lords report into food waste prevention.[79] The response:

·  noted Government support for a voluntary, non-legislative approach such as that enshrined in the Courtauld Commitment. Phase 3 of the Commitment is due to commence in 2016 and to run until 2025 with a focus on helping consumers and businesses;

·  re-iterated a commitment to the waste hierarchy of prevention first, with redistribution for human consumption where possible next and then for animal feed (under strict conditions). The Government supports the use of unavoidable food waste as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion; and

·  noted the Government's agreement that consumers have a key role to play in reducing food waste. The WRAP 'Love Food, Hate Waste' campaign has become a "recognised brand" in providing advice to consumer, retailers and local authorities.[80]

38. Despite progress on reducing waste, WRAP told us that there was still a "lot more" that could be done.[81] It considered the EU target of reducing food waste by 30% to be "challenging" but achievable.[82] This must be achieved against Defra cuts in WRAP funding from £48.1 million in 2010-11,[83] to £17.6 million in 2014-15. Funding for 2015-16 is anticipated to be £15.5 million. WRAP has achieved charitable status, which could allow it access to wider funding such as from trusts and charities.[84] The organisation highlighted that returns from its investment in waste reduction are to the benefit of "individuals, local authorities, businesses and the UK as a whole".[85] The organisation's Chief Executive told us that every £1 of public money spent on programmes to reduce household food waste generated £250 worth of savings in the home.[86] Dr Goodwin said that while "clearly I could say we could do more if I had more resources but there are also a lot of resources being put in by others" including retailers as part of a collective effort.[87]

39. The Minister highlighted WRAP's contribution to waste reduction achievements such as its work on labelling aimed at discouraging retailers from putting unnecessary date labels on products.[88] He noted that there had been progress such that by 2015 or 2016 household waste of food and its packaging would have reduced by around 20% since 2007.[89]

40. Despite reductions in recent years, the UK continues to waste significant volumes of food, and the amount of edible food being disposed of remains unacceptably high. At a time when global food systems are under pressure and the UK faces its own food security challenges, this level of waste is unacceptable economically, socially and environmentally. There is no magic bullet for tackling this; rather measures must be diligently applied across the food supply chain from producer to consumer in order to achieve steady results.

41. We commend the work undertaken over the past seven years by those such as the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to spur food waste reduction. Less waste in production, processing and distribution delivers a more efficient food supply chain and this benefits consumers. But there is still some way to go, particularly in reducing household food waste since this makes up half of all UK food waste.

42. It is essential that the Government provides the Waste and Resources Action Programme with sufficient public funding such that, alongside investment from other sources such as trusts and charities, it has adequate resources to enable it to maintain momentum in its food waste reduction programmes. This makes good economic sense even in times of financial constraint, since programmes to reduce food waste deliver both public and private benefits beyond their costs.

59   Waste and Resources Action Programme (FS03) para 7 Back

60   Food Waste, Standard Note SN07045, House of Commons Library, December 2014 Back

61   Waste and Resources Action Programme (FS2 03) para 27 Back

62   Fresh Produce Consortium (FS2 06) para 14 Back

63   Food Waste, Standard Note SN07045, House of Commons Library, December 2014 Back

64   Waste and Resources Action Programme (FS03) para 29. WRAP defines food waste as avoidable if the food could, at some point prior to disposal, have been eaten Back

65   As above, para 41 Back

66   Tesco plc (FS2 04) Back

67   Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc (FS2 01) Back

68   Q66  Back

69   Tesco plc (FS2 04) Back

70   The Courtauld Commitment is a voluntary agreement aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing waste within the UK grocery sector. Phase one ran from 2005 to 2010, phase two ran from 2010 to 2012, and phase three of the agreement runs to 2015. Between them, the three phases aim to cut household food waste by 20%. See WRAP information sheet, Courtauld Commitment, November 2013 Back

71   The Hospitality and Food Service Agreement is a voluntary agreement to support the hospitality and food service sector in reducing waste and recycling more between 2012 and 2015. It has over 200 signatories and supporters covering over 25% of the UK sector by food and drink sales. Back

72   See Sustainable Restaurant Association webpages Back

73   Q91 Back

74   Q97 Back

75   Q25 Back

76   See for example Institution for Mechanical Engineers' written evidence to House of Lords European Union Committee, 10th Report of Session 2013-14, Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention, HL Paper 154 Back

77   Q102. See also para 18, Government response to: House of Lords European Union Committee, 10th Report of Session 2013-14, Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention, HL Paper 154 Back

78   Q25 Back

79   Government response to: House of Lords European Union Committee, 10th Report of Session 2013-14, Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention, HL Paper 154 Back

80   Government response to: House of Lords European Union Committee, 10th Report of Session 2013-14, Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention, HL Paper 154 Back

81   Q91 Back

82   Waste and Resources Action Programme (FS03) para 41 Back

83   WRAP, Update: WRAP budget, 21 December 2010 Back

84   Food Waste, Standard Note SN07045, House of Commons Library, December 2014 Back

85   Waste and Resources Action Programme (FS03) para 41 Back

86   Q86 Back

87   Q95 Back

88   Q210 Back

89   Q174 Back

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Prepared 22 January 2015