Turning food waste into value key to meeting climate goals, says report

Generating value from food waste will be key to reforming the food sector in Scotland as part of efforts to meet the country’s 2045 net-zero carbon emissions goal, according to a new report by Zero Waste Scotland.

The new report by the publicly funded body, entitled ‘The Future of food: Sustainable protein strategies around the world’, explores how the Scottish Government could implement a sustainable protein plan to minimise carbon emissions from protein-rich food sources, particularly livestock, and maximise value of the food sector’s resources to create a greener, circular economy.

While the report noted that carbon emissions from the Scottish farming sector are among the highest in the UK and even the EU, Zero Waste Scotland emphasised that the problem does not lie with the agriculture sector alone. The problem also encompasses the nation’s relationship with food and food systems from farmgate to plate and the waste generated at each stage of the system.

Zero Waste Scotland’s report identifies generating value from food waste as a key opportunity in a reformed food sector. It estimates that up to £800 million could be saved each year in the beer, whisky and fish sectors alone, through more efficient use of waste and byproducts, which will be crucial to the aim of the food and drink sector to double its production to £30 billion by 2030 through the Food and Drink Partnerships Ambition 2030.

Another opportunity to generate value from food waste identified by Zero Waste Scotland in the past is insect farming, which has the potential to significantly cut carbon emissions by “upcycling” the nation’s food waste into high-protein feed for farmed fish, as well as biofuels and fertiliser.

On a broader scale, the report provides an overview of protein strategies in France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, the EU and the Canadian province of Manitoba. These strategies include promoting significant bioeconomy opportunities, turning waste products into valuable sources of protein and turning carbon emissions into carbon savings.

For Scotland specifically, a sustainable protein strategy would involve ‘closing the loop’ to make the Scottish economy circular — preventing resources from going to landfill, and instead, diversifying farm produce to make greener, protein-rich foods, which would reduce carbon emissions and feed the nation sustainably.

The report suggested that protein-rich legumes, such as peas and beans, could provide low-carbon nutrition for people and livestock, while also acting as a natural fertiliser by absorbing nitrogen from the atmosphere back into the soil.

‘Bright future’ for food and drink

Launching the report, Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Our country and our food and drink sector have a bright future and farming will always be at the heart of that. But to turn that vision into reality we must all think about food and farming differently.

“This is not just about farming. It’s about all of us. We’re all part of the problem and we’re all part of the solution and the valuable opportunities that brings. As consumers or retailers we are as much at fault with our unsustainable demand for food. We’re all responsible for vast amounts of food waste, which is one of the worst causes of the emissions behind the climate crisis.”

In recent years, food waste and reform has been at the top of Scotland’s agenda, with the country having increased food waste recycling rates by 40 per cent between 2013 and 2017. This is due, in part, to the collective recognition of the Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland of the fundamental role food waste must play in reducing carbon emissions.

With regard to Scotland’s net-zero goal, which is set for 2045, food waste has been acknowledged as the most carbon-intensive contributor in the waste sector. To address this, the Scottish Government is set to implement a ban on sending biodegradable waste to landfill. Due to pushback from companies, however, this has been delayed to 2025.

Food reform has been identified as key to cutting carbon emissions beyond Scotland — earlier this year the UK Government’s Committee on Climate Change warned that the UK population needs to change its diet and the way it uses its land to feed the nation in order to meet net-zero targets.

Addressing this, Gulland added: “They advised cutting our intake of carbon-intensive foods like meat and dairy by at least a fifth per person as well as reducing food waste by one fifth to reach the UK’s net-zero target by 2050.

“They’re right. We need to do things differently. Our report reviews sustainable protein strategies developed by other governments around the world to support a switch to low-carbon agriculture as they have concluded that this is key to solving the climate crisis.”

You can read the report, ‘The Future of food: Sustainable protein strategies around the world’, in full on the Zero Waste Scotland website.