National Spotlight: United Kingdom

Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 15 million tonnes. About 47,000 tonnes of food surplus are redistributed and 660,000 tonnes are used for animal feed production.

As food waste has gotten more and more global attention, Britain has consistently been a source of profound reports, inspirational practices, and innovative solutions aimed at combating the problem. The face of the British anti-waste movement is WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Plan) and its “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign that has been running since 2007. Founded in 2000, WRAP collaborates with all levels of government, businesses, community organizations, trade unions, and individuals to champion sustainable waste management. Its Courtauld 2025 Commitment has set 20% reduction targets for food waste and greenhouse gas intensity of food and drink (production, distribution, consumption, etc.) in the UK over the next 10 years.

UK wrap report
Image courtesy of WRAP

In 2015, WRAP created the Manufacturing and Retail Working Group to develop resources and undertake research projects to analyze and improve food waste prevention practices. Just last month, the group published its report examining the current waste levels and progress in the UK with accompanying recommendations for development. Among its findings, the research produced the nonprofit’s first-ever estimate of preventable waste from the UK manufacturing and retail sectors: 56% of the 1.9 million tonnes of food that was discarded could have been eaten.  Nonetheless, less than 5% of food production in the British retail and manufacturing sectors ends up as surplus or waste, which is quite commendable. Moreover, 47,000 tonnes of surplus food were redistributed in 2015, and 660,000 tonnes were used in animal feed production. While WRAP rightfully continues to push for improvement, the UK’s progress in preventing waste so far is by no means negligible.

The “Love Food, Hate Waste” campaign is geared towards consumers, teaching people how easy it is to prevent waste at the household level. Its website of food saving tools includes a recipe search engine to use up leftover ingredients, portion and up-to-2-week meal planners, and tons of storage, cooking, and shopping tips. In addition to these resources, the LFHW mobile app offers a kitchen inventory tool to help users keep track of the food they’ve bought. The campaign references British food waste statistics, but, naturally, the tips and tools are universally relevant and useful.

London

Another strong fighter in Britain’s food waste arena is ReFood, Europe’s largest food waste recycler. The corporation collects waste from retailers and producers across the UK and converts it into biogas, electricity, and fertilizer via anaerobic digestion, providing a clean, efficient method of food waste management. In 2013, ReFood launched Vision 2020, a step-by-step plan to help the food industry prepare for a total ban on food waste landfilling by the year 2020. Far from idealistic, the campaign’s acknowledges the financial and administrative difficulties of instituting a landfill ban and accordingly offers recommendations and assistance for developing the necessary infrastructure. Furthermore, it promotes food waste education, citing “Love Food, Hate Waste” by name. ReFood’s goal is to embrace food waste as a profitable resource.

As for the private sector: Britain’s largest supermarket, Tesco, has demonstrated an impressive commitment to preventing waste. In 2013, the corporation published an extensive report on the waste generated by products sold in its stores, disclosing its food waste statistics for the first time ever. Now, the retailer annually publishes food waste data for its UK franchise – which, sadly, saw a 4% increase in waste from 2015 to 2016. Still, Tesco has been working to eliminate wasteful practices, such as Buy One Get One Free offers on fruit and vegetables. The chain also hasn’t sent any food directly to landfills since 2009. Details on the store’s other efforts can be found here.

Last September, the Food Waste (Reduction) Bill was introduced to, among other things, establish national food waste reduction incentives and require large retailers and manufacturers to cut down their waste at least 30% by 2025. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation never made it out of the House of Commons – but it wasn’t the first time that food waste was on the government agenda, and it certainly won’t be the last. In 2011, for instance, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued date label guidance to the food industry so as to prevent the excess of caution and confusion that generates waste.

Jolly good show, UK!

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