Food waste falls by seven per cent, says WRAP

Food waste has fallen by seven per cent per person in three years, according to new data from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

An image of food waste

WRAP’s latest progress report from the Courtauld Commitment 2025 – a voluntary initiative aiming to improve the sustainability of food production – has revealed that total food waste levels have fallen by 480,000 tonnes between 2015 and 2018, equivalent to filling London’s Royal Albert Hall ten times.

Total UK food waste now measures 9.5 million tonnes per year, down from 10 million tonnes in 2015 and 1.7 million tonnes a year lower than in 2007.

UK households now throw out 6.6 million tonnes of food waste every year (4.5 million tonnes of which could have been eaten), a reduction of 1.4 million tonnes compared to 2007 levels – enough to fill 150,000 food collection trucks each year, which, if placed end to end, would stretch from London to Prague.

The amount of food waste still wasted comes with a significant cost, worth £14 billion every year (£700 for an average family with children).

Launched in 2016, WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2025 challenges the UK food and drinks industry to reduce its waste by 20 per cent over ten years. Over 156 businesses have signed up to the initiative, including ASDA, Coca-Cola and M&S, helping to reduce the amount of waste in the supply chain by four per cent per capita over the period 2015 to 2018.

The Commitment has been complemented by WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, which aims to target household food waste by providing the public with relevant information on meal planning and food storage, through eye-catching campaigns, such as its recent Guardians of Grub campaign targeting food waste in the hospitality sector. Improved labelling of food packaging and an increase in the amount of local authorities offering separate food waste collections has also been a factor.

Marcus Gover, WRAP’s CEO, commented: “We are in a new decade and have just ten years if we are to honour our international commitment to halve food waste. This really matters because it is untenable that we carry on wasting food on such a monumental scale when we are seeing the visible effects of climate change every day, and when nearly a billion people go hungry every day.

“This great news announced today means we are starting to wake up to the reality of food waste, but we are often turning a blind eye to what is happening in our homes. We are all thinking about what we can do for the environment and this is one of the most simple and powerful ways we can play our part. By wasting less food, we are helping to tackle the biggest challenges this century – feeding the world whilst protecting our planet.”

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers added: “Each year, tonnes of good-quality, nutritious food needlessly goes to waste, harming our environment and climate. As a world-leader in the fight against food waste, it is good news that we are making a real difference.

“But while this is encouraging, there is more to be done – and I urge all households, individuals and businesses to consider how they can reduce their own food waste footprint to create a better world for generations to come.”

Government Food Waste Champion Ben Elliot added: “These new statistics are extremely encouraging and demonstrate a big step in the right direction. However, we must still keep marching – more needs to be done, across every business and every household, if we are to hit the milestone targets set out in the Courtauld Commitment 2025 report.”

Cutting waste across the supply chain

According to the report, food manufacturers have reduced their sector waste by around 10 per cent, saving more than 160,000 tonnes and £190 million. Retail food waste rose slightly to 277,000 tonnes compared to 260,000 in 2015, but makes up just three per cent of the total.

This marginal increase in retail food waste may be linked to efforts to help suppliers and customers cut wastage, which, in the short-term, can increase food waste in depots and stores, for example through the relaxation of specifications on fresh produce.

Alongside the Courtauld Commitment 2025, WRAP’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap sets a series of milestones to help businesses to reduce their wastage, with 121 supermarkets, producers and manufacturers following WRAP’s ‘Target, Measure, Act’ approach to control the amount of food thrown away.

Year-on-year data from 26 of these businesses has shown a collective reduction in food waste of seven per cent, saving around £100 million of food.

Yorkshire-based Approved Food, which sells surplus food and drink products online, has welcomed today’s progress report from WRAP, but calls for more action to be taken to free up unwanted food further up the supply chain, particularly in terms of supermarket own-brand products. 

Andy Needham, Managing Director of Approved Food, commented: “It’s scandalous. The manufacturing sector still waste around 1.5 million tonnes of food every year and we see the hidden issues behind this, day in and day out, for example, food that is past its best before date being binned when it is still perfectly good to eat.

“Nobody knows what 1.5 million tonnes looks like, so we laid out pallets of rescued food from our distribution centre in our yard. The 60 pallets contained 20 tonnes of surplus food. If we had continued this line with the full 1.5 million tonnes manufacturers waste each year, it would have reached New York City all the way from Barnsley. That is the size of the issue we need to address.

“WRAP wants us to engage with 500 new food manufacturing businesses to help address this; however, those producing own-brand goods for supermarkets will not have the freedom to choose to whom the food is donated or sold to.

“This is restrictive, limits competition, disadvantages and disincentives suppliers and opens retailers to risk, but most of all, results in good, edible food being binned. We want these barriers to be removed to that food that would otherwise be wasted can be ‘rescued’ for redistribution.”

Winning the war on food waste

Although significant progress has been made so far, achieving the Courtauld 2025 food waste target will require substantial action – households must cut down food waste by 800,000 tonnes, whilst manufacturers and hospitality services must reduce waste by 130,000 and 115,000 tonnes respectively.

Aiming to change consumer habits, WRAP will be launching a national food conversation in 2020 to build concern around the issue of food waste, in the same way that the public is strongly opposed to ocean plastic and the climate crisis.

You can read the Courtauld Commitment 2025 Milestone Progress Report on WRAP’s website. 

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