The round table, organised by our sister publication Food Manufacture and held at the offices of law firm Eversheds in London, brought together a crowd of industry representatives and consultants concerned with food sustainability and the sector’s future competitiveness.
Andrew Kuyk, director of sustainability and competitiveness at the Food and Drink Federation, introduced the session by sketching out the future scenario for food security, a scenario that Professor John Beddington recently called “a perfect storm”.
By 2050, we will have to double global food production using less water, less fossil fuels and less land. Climate change will bring changes in water patterns, more rain – in the wrong places and at the wrong times; and different bugs and diseases are likely to appear. When faced with food insecurity or climatic problems, people tend to vote with their feet and move somewhere better, and this brings social, economic and political change.
“Food is something we have to go on producing. Other aspects of life we could do without, but food is core to human survival,” said Kuyk.
He said the challenge for the food and drink industry is to increase output with more efficiency, and do so without making climate change worse. “It’s a hell of a challenge.”
Matthew Rowland-Jones, head of retail, food and drink at Envirowise, said a key message in resource efficiency is: “Minimise use of inputs while maintaining or increasing quality of output.”
That means keeping a close eye on hidden resource inefficiencies. “People expect some wastage, but they should be striving for zero waste coming out of the factory or production process, as that waste is costing you resources… If it doesn’t end up in the final product, it is a waste of material, energy or human resources.”
Realising that reducing waste also means reducing costs could help swing companies’ towards greening their operations at a time when costs are under especially tight control.
One example Rowland-Jones gave from the retail sector was a company taking delivery of combat trousers made in the Far East, the pockets of which had been stuffed with tissue paper before shipping. While disposing of the waste paper was costing tens of thousands of pounds, the cost of employees’ time to take out the paper and re-fold the trousers ran to between £200,000 and £300,000.
Food sector success
He also drew attention to some case studies from the food sector, where waste reduction has yielded tangible benefits.
Yeo Valley, a producer of organic yoghurts, managed to save 477 tonnes of waste from landfill, which saved it £36,000 in costs. It also managed to save 7300m3 of water by switching around its operations. At the start of the production cycle it now makes light coloured products and at the end, dark. This has meant the equipment needs to be washed less frequently than before.
Pasty-maker Ginsters has achieved a 47 per cent reduction in food waste per tonne of product, through measures such as efficiency of pastry cutting machinery and filling of pies. It also reduced the amount of water used in the cleaning process by 50 per cent, and the cardboard waste per tonne of product by 30 per cent.
Kuyk added that there is a need to convince people that actions to promote sustainability also make good common sense.
He drew attention to the FDF’s five-fold ambitions on sustainability, drawn up two years ago: Reduce carbon output; reduce water use; reduce packaging; reduce waste to landfill; fewer and friendlier transport miles.
These actions are not stand-alone. For instance, packaging reduction means using less energy to produce it, and less waste to dispose of. And if packaging is lighter, more products can be loaded into trucks for transportation, thereby using less fuel.
“It makes real business sense to do a lot of these things.”