Food waste in England Contents


15.The most desirable outcome is prevention, in line with the waste hierarchy, ensuring that edible food does not become waste.

16.The Government looks to voluntary initiatives, rather than a regulatory approach, to deliver food waste reductions. UK-wide voluntary initiatives are led primarily by WRAP, supported by funding from Defra, the devolved administrations and the EU.

17.WRAP estimates that, by weight, household food waste makes up 71% of the UK post-farmgate total, with manufacturing contributing 17% of food waste, the hospitality and food service 9% and retail 2%.13

Figure 2: Amounts of food waste arising in the UK by sector (total post-farm-gate = ca. 10 Mt)14

18.In this Chapter we examine work being done to reduce food waste generated by households, the hospitality sector and retailers.

Courtauld Commitment

19.The Courtauld 2025 Commitment was launched in March 2016.15 This is a voluntary agreement that brings together organisations across the food system—from producer to consumer—to make food production and consumption more sustainable. This agreement includes a target to reduce food and drink waste in the UK by 20% by 2025, compared to a 2007 baseline. Signatories to the 10-year Commitment include some global food manufacturers as well as major UK retailers, who represent more than 93% of the grocery market. 24 bodies from the local authority sector are also signatories, with the aim of improving communications.

20.However, many companies, particularly on the manufacturing side, are not signatories to Courtauld. Tristram Stuart, from Feedback, stated that while it was relatively easy to encourage retailers to sign up, because “they have a public-facing brand and there is a lot at stake,” it was harder to bring pressure on food manufacturers since there was not a similar “level of power over manufacturers, many of whom have pretty invisible brands, or brands that are very secondary to the public eye”.16

21.As well as its limited scope, the fact that the Courtauld Commitment was a voluntary initiative was highlighted as a further weakness. Some witnesses said that a regulatory approach to reducing food waste was needed in England. They highlighted the situation in Scotland, where the Scottish Government had announced a plan to introduce a mandatory target to cut food waste by a third by 2025.17 Feedback called for a mandatory national target for food waste reduction in England.18 Friends of the Earth called for a requirement by all manufacturers, distributors and large supermarkets to reduce their food waste by at least 20% by 2025, including through redistribution to charitable organisations.19

22.When we raised these ideas with the Minister, she told us that she did not consider that there was a need for a mandatory national food waste reduction target.20

23.The Courtauld Commitment is a voluntary agreement. We were disappointed to hear that a large number of manufactures had not signed up to its targets. We call on WRAP and the Government to re-double their efforts to increase participation in the Courtauld process by food manufacturers.

24.We recommend that there should be a national food waste target. An ambitious, formal target on food waste would influence the Government’s approach to food waste, ensuring that there continues to be a focus on reducing food waste.

Food waste in households

25.£13 billion of food was wasted in the UK in 2015, approximately 7.3 million tonnes. WRAP told us that most consumers were unaware of the amount of food that they wasted. The average household lost £470 a year because of avoidable food waste, whilst those with children incurred a loss of £700, with the average person in the UK losing £200 a year.21 It was estimated that around two-thirds of the potential reduction in UK food waste would need to come from action at a household level.22

26.Work focusing on the role of the consumer in the household is led by WRAP. Since 2007, WRAP’s consumer campaign, ‘Love Food Hate Waste’, has looked to help UK households recognise and tackle food waste, highlighting the environmental and financial impacts of the food that householders waste in the UK. A new strategy for the campaign was launched at the end of 2016, working in partnership with signatories, with the aim of “delivering the step change required to further reduce household food waste”.23

27.Witnesses congratulated the results that WRAP’s campaign had managed to obtain in the last decade, with a 21% reduction in avoidable household food waste from 2007 to 2012.24 However, the findings from Courtauld Phase 3 showed that the target to reduce household food waste by 5% by 2015 compared with 2012 had not been achieved, with the estimated amount of annual household waste having risen from 7.0 million tonnes in 2012 to 7.3 million tonnes in 2015, an apparent increase of 4%.25

28.Witnesses noted the challenge in changing consumers’ behaviour to food and food waste. While it was agreed that there was high awareness around the issue, this was not currently being translated into action by households. WRAP admitted that there were no “silver bullets” or simple single interventions that would deliver significant reductions.26 Feedback said that a culture shift was needed to make the issue ‘cool’: “Make it an issue that is not just, “We should all stop wasting food”, but ‘This is cool’ and we can change our culture”.27

29.We heard that there was a greater need to target messages to specific groups of the population. WRAP told us that recent research had shown that there were “subgroups of people who are motivated by different things and have different needs”.28 WRAP recognised that it was becoming more difficult to achieve a change among consumers and that they had to “up their game”.29

30.During our inquiry, we learnt about the £1 million Sainsbury’s had invested in Swadlincote in South Derbyshire. This was to develop and trial new technology and community initiatives in a bid to cut household food waste by 50%, equating to a saving of £350 per household. Trials in the town included: giving out fridge thermometers; winnow technology;30 smart fridges; a community fridge; and food saver champions and school engagement. Sainsbury’s told us that the purpose overall was to reduce food waste, but also to develop “in an open-source way, ways we can share with […] people across the industry, councils and schools what are the things that work, so that we collectively get to the heart of the problem”.31 We look forward to the publication of the results by Sainsbury’s.

31.Witnesses told us of the need to improve public education on the origins of food, food management and the implications of surplus food. We also heard about the importance of educating young students. Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority told us that new initiatives for learning and skills development around food were required, for example, growing fruit and vegetables in school grounds. It said that “the national curriculum has neglected this for many years, leading to a large proportion of young adults unable to cook, prone to wasting food and eating a diet high in convenience and take-away foods contributing to poor public health and impacts on NHS resources”.32

32.The Minister acknowledged that food waste reduction in households had plateaued, telling us that it was difficult to change the behaviours of households.33 She told us that the Government was currently “working on a strategy” to influence individual behaviour.34 Chris Preston, Deputy Director, Waste and Recycling at Defra, acknowledged that there was a need for a refreshed behaviour change campaign, targeting specific consumers:

Not all consumers who waste food are the same. It will require looking at things like the top 10 wasted foods and why people waste particular types of foods, and targeting the interventions to make a difference for the future.35

33.The Government told us that it would be working closely with WRAP to change consumer behaviour. However, witnesses expressed concern that WRAP would not have the necessary funding to achieve its goals.36 The table below shows a steady decrease in central Government funding for WRAP in recent years.

Charitable income by source


£ million


£ million


£ million

Central Government




Devolved Administrations




Discontinued operations

[part of the 35.6 above]



EU Grants




Other income




Trading and investment








Table 1: WRAP Funding

34.The Minister acknowledged that WRAP had seen a significant reduction in its funding. She told us that, as a charity, it had the ability to undertake external work to increase its revenue, and to seek alternative funding sources. She did, however, recognise that there was a need to constantly keep under review whether WRAP’s resources were sufficient for the tasks and the targets it was being asked to meet by the Government.37

35.Householders have a key role to play in reducing food waste. We are disappointed that food waste reduction in households has stalled. This level of waste is unacceptable economically, socially and environmentally. The work to reduce food waste further will be hugely challenging and require a considerable investment of resource.

36.A priority must be placed on awareness-raising work. We welcome the work that has been done by WRAP in the last decade, and strongly believe that the research, advice and information provided by the organisation is invaluable.

37.We commend the work that has been undertaken by WRAP to spur food waste reduction. We are concerned that, despite its significant achievements, Defra’s funding for WRAP has reduced over recent years. It is essential that the Government provides WRAP with sufficient public funding so that, alongside investment from other sources such as trusts and charities, it has adequate resources to enable it to maintain its food waste reduction programmes. We urge Defra to increase the funding if evidence suggests it is necessary in the lead up to 2025.

38.We believe that awareness of food and food waste should start at an early age in schools. We recommend that the Government examine how lessons on food and food waste can be incorporated as part of the school curriculum.

Food waste in the hospitality and food service

39.The findings from Courtauld Phase 3 showed that the hospitality and food service met its target of reducing waste, despite a 2.1% increase in the number of meals eaten outside the home between 2012 and 2015.38

40.Waste from the hospitality sector includes preparation waste, spoilage and customer plate waste. Approximately 30% of the total waste generated in the hospitality sector was from customers’ plates.39 The most common foods thrown were items such as chips, bread rolls and coleslaw.40

41.It is estimated that the equivalent of 1 in 6 meals served in the UK is wasted.41

42.The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) recognised that there was still room for improvement within the hospitality industry. It noted that the amount of waste generated varied significantly with the type of business, with casual dining outlets wasting less than pubs which themselves wasted less than restaurants.42

43.Witnesses told us that there were a number of ways in which the hospitality sector could tackle plate food waste. Brighton & Hove Food Partnership told us that measures could include offers of smaller portions for a slightly reduced price, menus directly encouraging customers to take leftovers home, and clarity on sides that come automatically with orders. If hospitality sectors were going to reduce portion size then it was agreed that customer involvement was key: “eateries need to communicate to customers why they are doing this. If customers understand why it is being done, they are less likely to complain. There is a lot that can be done at the menu level”.43

44.Witnesses agreed that addressing common issues of portion size would deliver dual outcomes for both the “health of our environment and the health of our people”.44 The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told us that collaboration between Defra, the Department of Health and Public Health England should be encouraged so that up-to-date portion guidance could be provided to consumers: “Improving education on portion size and increasing the range of competitively-priced pack sizes to meet the needs of single households may have co-benefits, such as reducing rates of obesity”.45

45.In Scotland, the ‘Good to Go’ initiative encourages restaurants to provide a take-home box service for leftovers. ALMR supported the initiative but informed us that it would not be suitable for all business models, and that there were reputational and financial costs to businesses to consider.46

46.The Minister, when asked to comment on if the Government was considering a similar scheme in England, replied that she had not looked into it, but it was “something we could look into”.47

47.A large proportion of unnecessary waste in the hospitality sector is the result of large portion sizes and resulting waste left on customers’ plates. The incoming Government must work with the hospitality sector to encourage it to examine ways of preventing plate wastage, for example, by offering smaller portions, by providing clarity on the sides that arrive with a meal, reducing the amount of sides, and encouraging take-home service for leftovers.

Food waste in the retail sector

48.Food waste in the retail sector is small in comparison to other parts of the supply chain. According to WRAP, retail wastes around 0.2 million tonnes of food per year compared to 1.7 million tonnes in manufacturing and 7.3 million tonnes in the home.48 However, the British Retail Consortium recognised that retailers had a pivotal role in reducing food waste in their capacity as “gate keepers” between food producers and households.49

49.In this section, we consider issues around transparency of food waste monitoring in the retail sector, and how retailers can support consumers in reducing waste, through improved labelling and packaging.


50.UK retailers and large food and drink manufacturers currently collate food waste data from their operations under the Courtauld Commitment. However, the data is not audited, and when published by WRAP is anonymised and aggregated. Tesco and Sainsbury’s are the only retailers to publicly publish their food waste data.

51.Witnesses called for more transparent and effective monitoring of waste. Feedback told us that making this data publicly available would increase competition between businesses, generating positive results for consumers, retailers and suppliers.50 FareShare called for mandatory public reporting of food waste for food businesses:

This has been a hot topic of debate, discussion and pressure for quite a considerable period of time […] If you do not measure it, you are not going to do anything about it. The concept and the idea of getting each retailer to measure, and to be open and transparent about where their food waste is, will really, really help to make a difference. It is no coincidence that Tesco and Sainsbury’s are doing a lot around food waste as a result of that transparency.51

52.We also heard that there was currently a lack of consistency in how major retailers measured their waste, making comparisons within the industry difficult. For example, Tesco told us that they measured their waste by category, with the figures checked and verified by auditors. They used the World Resources Institute’s metrics.52 Sainsbury’s, in comparison, measured their waste in tonnage, and did not go down to category level.53

53.The Minister told us that she was not in favour of requiring retailers to publicly report their food waste: “We have two supermarkets leading the way. If other supermarkets were interested in doing it, of course we would not stand in their way”.54

54.We commend Tesco for publishing its food waste data from across the supply chain. Sainsbury’s is moving in the same direction, but needs more transparency. The fact that no other retailers have followed their lead shows that a voluntary approach is inadequate. We recommend that the incoming Government requires food businesses over a particular size to publicly report data on food waste. This would create much more transparency.

55.Retailers must work with WRAP to agree a consistent method of reporting, enabling comparisons to be drawn.

56.WRAP called for a Food Surplus and Waste Management Plan for businesses, resulting in businesses following “consistent approaches to identifying sources of food surplus and waste, provide them with guidance on options for prevention (and recycling), and support delivery of policies on both, and increase the probability of Courtauld 2025 and UN-Sustainable Development Goal targets being met”.55 This was endorsed by BEIS.56

57.The Minister told us that she was unaware of BEIS’s views and would look into the issue further.57

58.We recommend that food businesses over a particular size are required to produce a Food Surplus and Waste Management Plan.

Date Labelling

59.The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 implemented European Union Directive 2000/13/EC. Specifically, they set out the information required by law to be included on food packaging, including the criteria for ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates.58 Although there is no legislative requirement, some retailers also use a ‘display until’ date. The distinction between these three date labels is set out below:

WRAP explained that a large amount of food waste was generated because food was not used in time.60 We discussed with witnesses the suitability of current labelling requirements and the impact of date labels on food waste.

60.Feedback questioned whether ‘use by’ dates were used in the way in which they were intended and were conflated with ‘best before’ dates. It told us:

… if you go and talk to a manufacturer of pork pies or any of those cold meat products that are rightly use-by-date-type products, and you say, “How have you calculated your use-by date?”, they will tell you that the date is not the date on which they think the product will become microbiologically hazardous, or anything near that; it is the date on which they think the pastry is no longer going to retain its ultimate crispness.61

61.Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall agreed with the assessment that manufacturers were using ‘use by’ dates more like ‘best before’ dates.62 Similarly, the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership described ‘use by’ dates as “too conservative; many foods are perfectly fine past it”.63

62.Witnesses questioned whether there remained a need for the ‘best before’ date labelling at all. Feeback argued that there was “certainly a very strong case for getting rid of best-before dates on an awful lot of products”, especially fruit and vegetables.64 Many consumers were misled by the labels and took the view that it was necessary to dispose of such products after the ‘best before’ date had passed.65 The Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment described ‘best before’ dates as “meaningless” and told us that they were “confusing people”.66

63.We discussed with the retailers arguments that we had heard on the confusing nature of date labelling. Waitrose acknowledged that “some consumers find the labelling confusing or do not understand what the different marks mean”; however, they explained that the use of different date labels, particularly ‘best before’, was important for them ensuring the quality of their food and assisting with stock rotation.67

64.Tesco made similar points to us and was undertaking some work on consumer education on this point.68 Sainsbury’s noted the concerns we raised with them on customer confusion and said that they might undertake some customer research to understand the level of confusion among consumers.69

65.Defra agreed that there was room for improvement with food date labels, which were “really confusing for most people”.70 The Minister told us that Defra was currently working with WRAP and the Food Standards Agency to update guidance to industry on date labelling. Mr Preston explained that Defra’s work with these agencies had led to a re-think on the use of ‘best before’ date labels:

They also identified changes to things like “best before” dates on things like cheese that will go beyond their “best before” date. You obviously want the “use by” date to be there, because food is not safe to eat after that point, but everybody eats their cheese well after the “best before” date.71

The Minister told us that before the General Election was called for 8 June it had been Defra’s intention to send out revised guidance to industry on date labels “by the end of the year”.72

66.We believe that current date labelling on food products is potentially misleading and unnecessarily confusing to consumers.

67.We recommend that the incoming Government continues the current review with WRAP and the Food Standards Agency on food date labelling, with a view to issuing guidance to industry by the end of 2017. The review should specifically look at whether there is a need for ‘best before’ dates at all.


68.Packaging is designed to protect food and prolong its life. WRAP, the Food and Drink Federation and the Minister explained that technical work was underway to improve food packaging “through innovation”, to extend the life of produce and to reduce food waste.73 WRAP gave some examples of work already underway:

You sometimes see packs of chicken that are divided into two, so you can cut it in half and freeze half of it, or you can open one half at a time. It is kept in that carefully controlled atmosphere that makes it last as long as possible.74

69.Waitrose acknowledged that retailers had a role to play in helping consumers to reduce food waste and this included them making “changes to packaging [and] portion size recommendations”.75 Tesco told us about similar work that they were doing “with the customer’s thoughts [of reducing food waste] in mind”.76 Tesco’s work included chicken breasts packed in two packets and frozen avocado. While WRAP acknowledged that there was good innovation underway to improve food packaging they explained that they “would like to see more”.77

70.Witnesses told us that the role of packaging was insufficiently recognised, and that the lack of understanding of packaging had, to date, limited its impact in reducing food waste. LINPAC Packing noted that:

Contrary to much popular opinion, packaging is not a source of waste and environmental impact as it preserves and conserves far more product wastage that it creates at the end of its useful life—as now recognised by WRAP, ‘packaging is a solution not a problem’.78

71.WRAP recognised that consumer’s attitudes to packaging could be “colouring” their attitudes to wasting food and limiting the effectiveness of messages about food waste. The campaign, “Fresher for Longer” was launched to educate consumers of how packaging could help their food to remain edible for longer.

72.Industry representatives stressed the need for improved communication from retailers with their customers around the benefits of packaging. The Packaging Federation told us that some supermarkets had made more progress than others.79

73.It is not always clear to consumers what the role of packaging is, nor how to use packaging to make food last longer. Retailers have an important role to play in raising consumers’ awareness.

74.We recommend that retailers should make improvements to their packaging, such as increasing the use of split and re-sealable packets, to help consumers reduce food waste.

75.Further, we recommend that retailers should make food storage instructions clearer on packaging.

76.Retailers must work harder to explain to customers the role that packaging plays in reducing food waste.

‘Wonky’ vegetables

77.Retailers set standards that their suppliers must meet if their produce is to be sold in supermarkets. These standards have resulted in criticism that retailers discriminate against food, particularly fruit and vegetables, which are perfectly fit for human consumption but do not meet artificial cosmetic standards.80 It is estimated that 5–25% of apples, 9–20% of onions, and 3–13% of potatoes are rejected on cosmetic grounds. Making small changes to specifications (such as a 2 millimetre change to potato specifications) could, it is estimated, “reduce waste by 15%”.81

78.In an effort to reduce food waste and to use those fruit and vegetables that fell below cosmetic standards, some retailers were now selling ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables.

79.Some of our witnesses called on retailers to relax the artificial cosmetic standards concerning so-called “wonky veg” and questioned the value of the recent moves by some retailers to sell such produce as specifically “imperfect”. Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall explained that the supermarkets hadn’t always had such specific quality standards: “It didn’t used to be a problem for any member of the public to buy a slightly curved carrot or a slightly wonky parsnip”.82 He considered that the cause of this change in culture was not anything to do with the food value of the products being sold by supermarkets, but was instead “an arms race [among supermarkets] in pursuit of appearance and cosmetic perfection”.83

80.We questioned the supermarkets on their approach to “wonky vegetables”. Tesco confirmed that they had widened their “specification[s] to the point where […] still perfectly edible food can be sold, usually at a discount”, or was used in their “recipe dishes”.84 Waitrose also told us that they had flexed their specifications as much as they could.85 Sainsbury’s took a different approach and used the fruit and vegetables which did not meets its specifications in their “juices, smoothies, soups […] and ready meals”.86 Morrisons had increased the number of “wonky vegetable” lines sold and no longer marketed them as specifically imperfect; they had identified in 2015 that their customers were attracted to “wonky vegetables” because “they [could] buy [them] at a lower price or in a bigger bag”.87

81.Feedback stated that introducing explicit ‘imperfect’ product lines was a useful first step in engaging consumers with non-uniform products. However, it called on retailers to “normalise” this type of food by also including imperfect produce into existing economy lines of produce.88

82.Retailers have set unnecessary cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables. The result of this is that these “wonky vegetables” are either not being sold or are being sold at discounted prices. Supermarkets’ standards are contributing to England’s food waste problem.

83.We recommend that retailers relax their quality standards and start selling “wonky vegetables” as part of their main fruit and vegetable lines.

14 Based on various sector-specific WRAP reports (household, 2015 data; grocery wholesale, 2015 data; manufacturing, 2014 data; hospitality and foodservice, 2011 data; food waste in litter, 2012 data) and additional WRAP analysis of retail food waste based on 2015 British Retail Consortium (BRC) reported data. NB data for household also includes waste to sewer, which is not currently available for other sectors.

15 This follows on from WRAP’s previous voluntary agreements in this area: Courtauld Commitment, Phases 1 (2005–2008), 2 (2010–2012) and 3 (2013–2015). The Courtauld Commitment is so named because the original phase 1 agreement was launched at a Ministerial Summit at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2005.

17 Natural Scotland, Making Things Last: A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland (February 2016), section 1.3

19 Friends of the Earth, England, Wales & Northern Ireland (FOW0035)

22 WRAP (FOW0045)

26 WRAP (FOW0045)

30 These are electronic scales connected to an App which logs all food waste over a period of time and calculates how much was being thrown away.

32 Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority (FOW0039)

36 Qq79, 11

39 Sustainable Restaurant Association Too Good to Waste Campaign, ‘The Campaign for Restaurants, accessed 20 April 2017

40 Brighton & Hove Food Partnership (FOW0051)

42 ALMR (FOW0037)

44 Q121 [Vera Zakharov]

45 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (FOW0023)

49 British Retail Consortium (FOW0019)

50 Feedback (FOW0022)

52 Q163 [Tim Smith]

53 Q163 [Louise Evans]

55 WRAP (FOW0045)

56 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Energy (FOW0023)

58 The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (SI 1996/1499), Sections 20 to 22

61 Q18 [Tristram Stuart]

62 Q18 [Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall]

66 Q144 [Jane Bickerstaffe]

68 Q245 [Tim Smith]

69 Q242 [Louise Evans]

70 Q549 [Chris Preston]

71 Q549 [Chris Preston]

72 Q549 [Dr Thérèse Coffey]

73 Q408 [Marcus Gover]. See also Q262 and Q521.

74 Q407 [Marcus Gover]

76 Q255 [Tim Smith]

78 LINPAC Packaging (FOW0013)

80 Q27 [Tristram Stuart]

81 Q441 [Marcus Gover] and Q441 [Andrew Parry]

84 Q193 [Tim Smith]

85 Q194 [Victoria Harris]

86 Q193 [Louise Evans]

87 Q193 [Steven Butts]

88 Feedback (FOW0022)

26 April 2017