Mixed results on food waste for Courtauld Commitment 3

The third stage of the Waste & Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) Courtauld Commitment had mixed results, the organisation has reported, as signatories from the grocery sector hit targets to reduce their own waste but failed to make an impact on household food waste.

Greater insight into scale of food waste among raft of suggestions of European action The third stage of WRAP’s flagship commitment into reducing the rampant levels of food waste in the UK, which is funded by all four UK governments, began in May 2013, and saw 53 signatories from across the grocery supply chain, including the major supermarkets and large producers like Nestlé, Unilever and Coca-Cola Enterprises, pledge to hit three targets by 2015 against a 2012 baseline. Those targets were:

  • To reduce food and packaging waste by three per cent in manufacturing and retail (representing a nine per cent reduction in real terms to counter the increase in food purchased that was expected at the time);
  • To reduce household food and drink waste by five per cent; and
  • To improve packaging design and recyclability in the grocery supply chain without increasing the carbon impact.

Upon the launch of CC3, WRAP predicted that successfully meeting the targets would lead to a reduction of 1.1 million tonnes of waste across the grocery sector, 2.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent and a cost benefit of £1.6 billion to consumers, the sector’s businesses and local authorities.

Manufacturing and retail waste

The goal of reducing food and waste packaging by three per cent was met exactly, according to WRAP’s report. With signatories creating 2.43 million tonnes of the relevant waste in 2015 (including that dumped down drains), compared to 2.50 million tonnes in 2012, a decrease of 74,000.    

Over the course of the commitment, 219,000 tonnes of food and packaging waste were prevented, which WRAP says represents a saving of 555,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. It further estimates that the value of food savings alone is around £100 million.

Mixed results on food waste for Courtauld Commitment 3
Change in total supply chain waste over time (tonnes/year)
To help signatories reduce their food and packaging waste, a working group of businesses, sector bodies and food redistribution organisations was established to share knowledge and experiences of barriers to food waste prevention.

According to WRAP, this group helped to create a guidance for businesses on establishing redistribution partnerships, increasing the product life of food available to customers, and increasing the diversion of surplus food for animal feed production when it was not suitable for human consumption. The working group also developed a tool to help business audiences access tailored waste prevention advice.

As well as hitting the overall target to reduce waste, WRAP also notes that more waste moved up the waste hierarchy as the recovery and recycling rate grew from 95 per cent in 2012 to 99 per cent in 2015, with data also suggesting that signatories tripled the amount of surplus food and drink redistributed for human consumption from 6,000 tonnes in 2012 to 18,000 tonnes in 2015. The report warns, however, that the 2012 baseline data is subject to significant uncertainty, and so ‘the scale of the increase presented here should be taken as indicative’.


The goal to stop any increase in the impact of packaging through carbon emissions was ‘exceeded’, according to WRAP, with data showing a reduction of seven per cent.

This reduction was recorded despite the amount of packaging material placed on the market increasing by one per cent to 2.96 million tonnes over the course of the three-year commitment.

Mixed results on food waste for Courtauld Commitment 3
CO2e emissions impact of different packaging materials (millions of tonnes of CO2e)
Increased recycling rates for different packaging materials and reductions in the composition of packaging made of wood, polymers, aluminium and steel (where the total weight placed on the market and CO2 equivalent impact both fell over the three years) were cited as the main factors behind this carbon reduction.

WRAP estimates that the cumulative CO2 equivalent saving over the lifetime of the commitment was between 1.1 and 2 million tonnes, ‘depending on how much of the carbon saving from the increased recycling rates of packaging is attributed to CC3’.

Household food and drink

Less successful was the target to reduce household food and drink waste by five per cent over the three years.

Figures from local authority funded studies suggest that household food waste has not decreased during CC3, instead increasing by up to four per cent over the previous few years.

While an estimated 7.0 million tonnes (with a 300,000 tonne margin of error) was wasted by homes in 2012, the data suggests that around 7.3 million tonnes (with the same range) occurred in 2015. On a per person basis, this reflects an increase of two per cent, though WRAP says that ‘neither of these increases was statistically significant at a 95 per cent confidence level’.

With the commitment being run primarily for retailers, efforts to reduce household waste focused on media campaigns, in-store information and improved date labelling and storage advice to the public.

However, WRAP says that population growth, the fall in food prices and an increase in people living alone contributed to the ‘scale, targeting and effectiveness’ of these interventions not being sufficient to deliver a reduction.

Mixed results on food waste for Courtauld Commitment 3Responding to the disappointing progress, Steve Creed, Director of Business Programmes at WRAP, said: “Reducing food waste in the home is incredibly challenging, given the complex reasons for it, the scale of food waste in the home and the lack of awareness, but it’s clear we all need to do more. WRAP has a plan to work with governments, signatories and consumers for greater public engagement through Love Food Hate Waste and interventions by signatories to Courtauld 2025.”

Courtauld 2025, the successor to the three-part Courtauld Commitment, was launched in March last year, and challenges the UK food and drinks industry to reduce food waste by 20 per cent by 2025. While CC3 had 53 signatories, over 124 have signed up to the new decade-long programme.

Among those taking part this time are local authorities, which is intended to enable the grocery sector to work more closely with government to identify new actions to save resources across the supply chain and have a greater impact on household food waste.

‘Much more to be done’

Assessing the progress of the Courtauld Commitment as a whole, Creed said: “The three phases of Courtauld have been a game-changer in bringing businesses together to work on issues of resource efficiency and drive change within their own operations. Today’s results show the industry’s commitment to reducing their environmental impacts and the huge benefit of collaborative action, particularly in the supply chain.”

Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, added: “Retailers have worked hard with their suppliers and customers to tackle food and packaging waste. There is much more to be done, particularly focusing on cutting waste on farms and helping customers to save more food and money, but after a decade of progress we’re confident Courtauld is the best way to meet the challenge.”

Hospitality progress

As well as the release of the CC3 results today, WRAP has also published a report detailing the progress of the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (HaFSA), which ran concurrently from 2012-2015 to address issues of food and packaging waste in the hospitality industry.

As with CC3, the commitment had mixed success, with signatories reducing their waste arisings by 11 per cent against a target of five per cent, but failing to meet goals regarding the sustainable management of food waste. The results of the HaFSA are covered in more detail in Resource’s news story.

The full report summarising the results of the Courtauld Commitment 3 can be read on the WRAP’s website.

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