Courtauld 3 results show manufacturing and retail waste on the rise

The first year results of the third phase of the Courtauld Commitment show that manufacturing and retail waste is on the rise, despite a voluntary target to decrease it by three per cent.

Courtauld 3 results show manufacturing and retail waste on the rise

Courtauld Commitment 3, funded by all four UK governments, was launched in May 2013 by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), and is the third phase of the voluntary agreement aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing the carbon and wider environmental impact of the grocery sector.

Running until December 2015, the commitment asks signatories to work towards a range of targets to help reduce waste by 1.1 million tonnes by 2015. WRAP estimates that this would bring £1.6 billion in benefits to ‘consumers and industry’ and would result in carbon dioxide equivalent reductions of 2.9 megatonnes – comparable to removing one million cars from the UK’s roads.

Action taken to reduce food and packaging waste under the second phase of the Courtauld Commitment (Courtauld Commitment 2) reportedly delivered £3.1 billion in cost savings.

The targets for the Courtauld Commitment 3 are:

  • reducing household food and drink waste by five per cent (a nine per cent reduction in real terms to counter the expected increase in food purchased);
  • reducing traditional grocery ingredient, product and packaging waste in the grocery supply chain by three per cent (an eight per cent reduction in real terms to counter the expected increase in production and sales); and
  • improving packaging design through the supply chain to maximise recycled content as appropriate, improving recyclability and delivering product protection to reduce food waste, whilst ensuring there is no increase in the carbon impact of packaging (a three per cent carbon reduction in real terms to counter the expected sales increase).

All targets are measured against a 2012 baseline.

First year results

The first year results of Courtauld Commitment 3 show that rather than a reduction in manufacturing and retail waste, there was actually a slight increase of just under 0.1 per cent. This could be due to the fact that single-use transit packaging (which is often preferred to reusable transit packaging as it is takes up less space and is lighter than its counterpart) was up 16,000 tonnes in 2013 to 2.76 million tonnes (Mt).

WRAP has advised however, that this figure may not be a true account of the whole picture, as six of the 53 signatories did not provide their data in time for the analysis, and will therefore be included in next year’s report.

It added that to ensure the target is met, a ‘concerted effort’ by signatories is required to focus their activities on the implementation of more waste prevention and resource efficiency measures. WRAP said it would be working with signatories to help them ‘target their activity to achieve the most effective results’, and has today published a series of case studies illustrating good practice.

The other targets do show progress however, with total packaging weight reported by signatories decreasing by 0.6 per cent (16,000 tonnes) to 2.67 Mt despite the increase in the use of single-use transit packaging. This was due to a 32,000-tonne reduction in primary packaging (that in immediate contact with the product), which fell to 2.12Mt. 

The first year results also show an approximate 4.5 per cent reduction of the carbon impacts of packaging (ahead of the 2015 target of a zero per cent increase), due to increased efforts in reducing packaging, increasing recycled content and using different packaging materials.

Food waste prevention efforts have also reportedly led to 80 per cent more food being redistributed, with 38,000 tonnes of unsold food redistributed for human consumption. The Courtauld Commitment food waste targets have previously been described as ‘woefully insufficient’ and ‘preposterously unambitious’ by food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, however, and a report released by the EFRA Committee today stated that UK food waste levels were still 'unacceptable' and urged retailers to do more to reduce food waste arisings.

‘There is still much to do’

Speaking of the figures today, Dr Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at WRAP, said: “I am delighted that progress on the packaging target has exceeded expectations and redistribution has increased significantly. There is still much to do before the end of this third phase though, with the biggest challenge being the manufacturing and retail target. We will be working closely with signatories to help ensure all the targets are met.”

Resource Management Minister Dan Rogerson added: “Everyone has a role to play in reducing food waste and we are determined to support food retailers and industry in their efforts to improve products, packaging and guidance which can help consumers to save money and avoid waste.

“Where appropriate surplus food should be reused for human consumption and this report shows an impressive 80 per cent increase in the amount we’re redistributing.

“Making the best possible use of our resources is vital and while there is still work to be done, I congratulate everyone signed up to the Courtauld Commitment for their efforts this year.”

Rogerson’s counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also welcomed the work being done by retailers and businesses, with both the Welsh Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant, and Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, highlighting the work that their governments are doing to divert food waste from landfill (through Wales’s Environment Bill proposals and Northern Ireland’s forthcoming Food Waste Regulations).

WRAP announced in November last year that Courtauld Commitment 3 will be replaced by a 10-year framework, Courtauld2025, to boost resource efficiency in the food and drink sector from 'early 2016'. 

Find out more about Courtauld Commitment 3.

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