Zero food waste to landfill could save £17bn a year

The UK could save over £17 billion a year if it sends zero waste to landfill by 2020, waste management service ReFood has found.

The ‘Vision 2020: UK Roadmap to Zero Food Waste to Landfill’ report, released yesterday (11 November), marks the completion of two years’ work and proposes to ‘set the framework to achieve a food waste-free future by 2020’.

Authored by ReFood in collaboration with charity Bioregional, the roadmap was brought about following ReFood’s estimation that the UK will run out of landfill space in 2017. It aims to highlight: where and why food waste is happening at each stage of the UK supply chain; what actions are being taken to tackle food waste in each sector; and what more can be done in the future to drive the ‘positive environmental, economic and social outcomes’. 

Chaired by former Secretary of State for the Environment Lord Deben, along with a panel of ‘key’ industry stakeholders, it laments that ‘enthusiasm for recycling has not extended to food waste’ and estimates that almost six million tonnes of food still end up in landfill each year. 

Roadmap suggestions

According to ReFood, there remains an estimated 14.8 million tonnes of food wasted annually throughout UK’s food supply chain. Around 40 per cent of this food waste ends up in landfill, where it produces ‘harmful methane that has a global warming potential (GWP) 21 times greater than carbon dioxide’. This in turn accounts for over 20 million tonnes of GHG emissions and 6.2 billion litres of water use.

It adds that by diverting all food waste from landfill where possible, the UK could not only save £17 billion a year in costs, but also prevent 27 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) a year from entering the atmosphere, return over 1.3 million tonnes a year of nutrients to the soil, and generate over one terrawatt-hour (Twh) of electricity a year (enough to power over 600,000 homes annually).

In order to bring about its ‘2020 vision’, ReFood suggests that government should implement the following actions:

  • set a ‘clear timetable’ for the phased introduction of a ban on food waste to landfill (to come into full force by 2020);
  • introduce compulsory separate collections of food waste from homes and businesses (with waste sent to energy-from-waste facilities to produce electricity and heat);
  • encourage ’greater collaboration’ at every stage of the supply chain and between ‘key stakeholders’ to accelerate the adoption of best practice, improve waste prevention, and maximise the value of food waste as a resource; and
  • integrate food waste education into school, college, and professional training programmes and increased support for WRAP’s ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ initiative.

“Our message is clear”

Speaking at the launch of the roadmap, Philip Simpson, Commercial Director at ReFood, said: “Our message is clear; food waste is a valuable resource that should never end up in landfill sites. Everyone from the food producer, through to the retailer, the restaurant and the householder can play their part in ensuring that we take full advantage of its considerable potential by ensuring we re-use, recycle and recover every nutrient and kilowatt of energy it has to offer.

“As the biggest contaminant in the waste stream, food waste consigns millions of tonnes and billions of pounds of valuable resources to landfill or incineration each year. Failure to take a cohesive approach to food waste could result in solutions that will consign valuable resources to incineration or landfill, potentially cause significant environmental damage and represent a lost opportunity to develop a more integrated infrastructure in the UK to reprocess and recycle all waste.

“We would like to see the government and industry take a more consistent and holistic approach to waste in the UK - one that maximises its potential as a resource.”

“Compelling” case for change

Sue Riddlestone, OBE, Chief Executive and co-founder of BioRegional added: “Achieving zero food waste to landfill within the next seven years is a big challenge and we will need the support and actions of individuals, businesses and the government if this vision is to be realised.

“However, the case for change is compelling. We will save billions of pounds. We will prevent millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases from entering our atmosphere. And crucially, we will ensure that food is treated as a precious resource.”

The roadmap comes just days after WRAP released a similar report estimating that UK residents waste a collective £12.5 billion of food annually. 

Read ReFood's ‘Vision 2020: UK Roadmap to Zero Food Waste to Landfill’ report and WRAP’s household waste report