The 2011 estimates from WRAP, the UK’s waste advisors, suggested the sector generated 3.9m tonnes of food waste a year. However, the experts have just revised this figure down to 1.7m tonnes.
Using a new approach to analyse food waste, WRAP discovered that wasted food products make up only around half the organic waste streams from manufacture. This, added to the fact that companies managed to cut food waste by 10% between 2011 and 2014, leads to the “significantly lower” figure.
In all, there were 2.4m tonnes of food surplus and waste – the equivalent of 4.2% of UK production. Of that, 1.7m tonnes was food waste, 635,000 tonnes was used to produce animal feed and 42,000 tonnes was redistributed.
WRAP’s report, the “most comprehensive” assessment of food waste in the grocery supply chain to date, showed that five sub-sectors are responsible for around 80% of avoidable food waste in manufacture: dairy products, meat, poultry and fish, ambient products, fresh fruit and vegetable processing and bakery, cake and cereals. Some also have far greater potential for savings than others (see table).
The food manufacturing sector, generally, is “highly efficient”, said WRAP, but a further 355,000 tonnes of reductions are possible by 2025. Of that, 44% is preventable, 20% could be redistributed and 36% could be turned into animal feed.
This would save businesses a total of £220m (€290m), but it won’t be easy. Redistribution of edible food, for example, will have to be maximised – including some products with a very short shelf-life.
Redistribution must improve
Redistribution is an area where more can be done up and down the grocery supply chain. WRAP calculated that just 47,000 tonnes of a potential 270,000 tonnes is currently being redistributed.
“Even after efforts to prevent food waste arising in the supply chain (potentially saving [manufacturing and retail] businesses £300m (€395m) a year), there will still be the opportunity to increase redistribution four-fold, to the equivalent of at least 360 million meals,” the authors noted.
New regulations were being planned to force industry’s hand. Following France’s new law, and moves to introduce a similar law in Italy, support for the UK’s Food Waste Reduction Bill had intensified. But the proposals, which would have forced the biggest food brands to publish details of waste in their supply chains and redistribute edible food, appear to be dead in the water after a series of delays and lack of government support.
A lot rests therefore on a new industry-wide voluntary agreement. Courtauld 2025 – which spans grocery, manufacturing, hospitality and foodservice – includes a target to cut waste in the food chain by 20% by 2025.
Associated British Foods, Nestlé UK & Ireland, Unilever and Warburtons are among the early signatories.
The European Commission has recently been under pressure to re-insert a mandatory food waste reduction target into its Circular Economy package of new environmental regulations.