Food waste is a major issue for the food and drink industry. According to a 2011 report conducted by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) on request from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Global food losses and food waste, roughly one-third of the edible food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted globally, equating to about 1.3 billion tonnes per year. This occurs throughout the entire food supply chain, from agricultural production to the household. In this short article we can only touch on some of the key actions which those working in the sector can take to reduce food waste as well as signpost some useful resources to help you make the right decisions in terms of your own food waste reduction plans.In medium- and high- income countries, a great deal of food is thrown away even if it is still suitable for human consumption. In the UK, nearly 50% of this occurs at the consumer level. Much of the battle to reduce food waste is about changing attitudes and behaviours, not just in consumers but throughout the entire supply chain.There are a number of initiatives designed to guide food manufacturers in ways that they can help consumers reduce food waste. The Waste Reduction Action Plan’s (WRAP) campaign, Love Food Hate Waste, targets consumers with messages about the true extent of food waste and the steps that can be taken to reduce this. They work with a wide range of partners including UK businesses. Many large grocery chains and brands are taking steps to educate the consumer about how to reduce food waste through, for example, storage instructions and innovative packaging solutions.Sue Riley, of WRAP’s Consumer Waste Prevention Team, suggests that “…The food industry can make it easier for consumers to waste less by making appropriate changes to products, packaging and labelling. In particular, with regards to date labelling and storage guidance. Consistency of the messages used is key and to achieve this we work with the grocery retailers, brands and manufacturers through the Courtauld Commitment, which is a voluntary agreement with targets for reducing food waste and optimising packaging.”The Courtauld Agreement is currently on its second phase (Courtauld 2) which aims to significantly reduce waste in the grocery sector. WRAP encourages retailers, brand owners and their supply chain to identify collaborative approaches to reducing waste. They have a number of resources available on their website to help the grocery sector reduce waste.Working in partnership with the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), WRAP released a report on ‘Opportunities for resource efficiency in the food and drink sector’ which surveyed a number of FDF member organisations. The report found that in many companies, waste management was the job of a single individual who lacked the resources and power to make a huge impact. Waste reduction must be embedded in the mind-set of the entire company to be truly effective. They also found that a great deal of waste was being ‘hidden’ within waste allowances and suggested that they should be eliminated altogether and companies should focus on absolute raw material wastage as a key area for change.In 2007, FDF created a ‘Five-fold Environmental Ambition’, featuring five targets to improve the environment, one of which aims to send zero food and packaging waste to landfill by 2015 at the latest. FDF member companies such as Aunt Bessie’s, Betty’s Bakery, United Biscuits and Young’s Seafood have already report that they have achieved zero food waste to landfill.The Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) have a supply chain waste prevention best practice guide available free on their website which identifies points throughout the supply chain where food is wasted and how it can be prevented. They have also launched a Collaborative Waste Prevention Toolkit which helps mediate joint supply chain waste prevention efforts. This also includes in-depth cases studies of large brands who have managed to reduce waste throughout the supply chain.The Save Food initiative, launched by the FAO, is an effort to reduce the amount of food wasted each year, especially in industrialised countries. Save Food encourages dialogue on food losses between industry, research, politics and civil society. The initiative targets those involved in the supply chain from the food industry, retail, packaging and logistics for conferences and projects to help develop solutions.Many large grocery chains and brands provide their surplus ‘fit for purpose’ products to FareShare, a UK charity that redistributes them to disadvantaged people in the community. In 2011/12, FareShare redistributed food that contributed to more than 8.6 million meals across the UK. The charity is looking for food and drink industry partners to contribute food that would otherwise be wasted. FairShare’s Chief Executive believes that the charity handles only about 0.1% of the UK’s food waste, so a large proportion is still finding its way to the landfill.
This article first appeared in Food & Drink Technology Magazine in 2014.