Sainsbury’s takes issue with EFRA report on food waste

Sainsbury’s said it is “disappointed” with the EFRA Committee’s report on food waste in England, while campaigners and waste industry figures have welcomed its findings.

The report recommends the introduction of food waste reduction targets by the government, while stating that supermarkets should relax rules on the sale of ‘wonky veg’ and publish official data on how much food they throw out.

Sainsbury’s takes issue with EFRA report on food wasteUntil last year, Tesco was the only major food retailer to publish its food waste statistics, with Sainsbury’s following suit in 2016.

Commenting on the release of the report, a spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said: “Whilst we welcome the Committee highlighting the need for more work to reduce food waste across all sectors, including households, we’re disappointed the report fails to fully acknowledge the extensive work that has been carried out by certain supermarkets, such as Sainsbury’s, to tackle and significantly reduce food waste.

“It’s also surprising that, while retail accounts for two per cent of UK food waste, the report states that manufacturing accounts for almost nine times more than this – and yet criticism in this report is largely reserved for supermarkets.

“We have made major strides in reducing food waste but recognise there’s more to be done. We cannot achieve this in isolation and believe it is now time for the wider sector to play its part.”

Sainsbury’s went to lengths to demonstrate that it has been making efforts to reduce food waste. The retailer highlighted that the company has achieved zero waste to landfill, reduced the amount of food going to waste by 9.4 per cent, while four out of five of its supermarkets have at least one food donation charity partner.

Regarding to food waste in the home, Sainsbury’s pointed to its ‘Waste less, Save more’ campaign to help customers waste less food in the home – it has pledged to invest £10 million into the programme, including £1 million into pilots in the town of Swadlincote – while also indicating that it has introduced simpler labelling for customers and smarter packaging to help customers keep food for longer.

Sainsbury’s takes issue with EFRA report on food waste
Sainsbury's spent last year testing food waste initiatives in the town of Swadlincote
The ‘Food Waste in England’ report was quickly written less than ten days following the final piece of evidence by Resources Minister Therese Coffey so that it could be published prior to Parliament unexpectedly dissolving earlier this month.

In her session in front of the committee, Coffey explained that the government would not be changing its voluntary approach in favour of more regulatory measures.

Supermarkets have role to play in behaviour change

The issue of food waste is a pertinent one, having a cross-cutting effect on families, businesses and the environment. In the UK, nearly 10 million tonnes of food and drink waste is created after it leaves the farm each year, some 60 per cent of which is considered avoidable.

At the household level, the average UK family spends around £470 on food that is later thrown out, while retailers are responsible for 200,000 tonnes of food waste each year, costing around £650 million.

While Sainsbury’s didn’t agree with the focus on retailers in EFRA’s report, the release of the report has been welcomed by food waste campaigners and industry experts.

Feedback, a food waste charity set up by campaigner Tristram Stuart, had this to say: “While we applaud the leadership shown by some retailers in food waste reduction, we share the committee’s view on the limits of voluntary approaches to food waste reduction in the private sector. We welcome the committee’s call for transparency on food waste, and mandatory, comparable reporting on food waste for businesses above a certain size. We believe reporting should cover both operational and key supply hotspots, and highlight how trading practices drive food waste across the supply chain.

Sainsbury’s takes issue with EFRA report on food wasteLooking at household food waste in particular, the charity said that “laudable initiatives” have shown the limits of awareness raising in achieving household behaviour change, stating: “We urge the government to further explore how supermarkets marketing, promotional and packaging practices drive overconsumption and waste. A study of household waste according to where households shop could usefully inform work in this area.”

Voluntary approach “unlikely” to bring success

Looking at the report from the angle of a food waste recycler, Jeremy Jacobs, Technical Director at the Renewable Energy Association, called the report “long overdue” adding that “the proposed recommendation to incentivise local authorities to collect more food waste is welcome, as is the suggestion to mandate through a phased approach for food businesses and retailers to separate their food waste in order that this can be treated through wither composting or anaerobic digestion.

“The outputs from these two technologies are now well documented and contribute not only to securing home grown energy but also regenerating our soils through the use of compost and digestate as a soil enhancer and artificial fertiliser replacement.

“Recycling rates have stagnated in England compared to Wales and Scotland and unless there is a policy requirement to collect food waste in both the household and commercial sector, it is unlikely that the step change that we seek will occur based on a voluntary approach.”

For more information, read the full EFRA Committee report.

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