Food waste in 2019: what’s new, what’s happening?

Date : 01 May 2019

According to WRAP's research and estimates compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), approximately one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. To counter the enormous human and environmental costs of food waste, the UK government is considering legislation to deal with the issue. In September 2018, in partnership with WRAP we launched the Food Waste Measurement Roadmap. The Roadmap will help food and consumer goods companies Target, Measure, Act on food waste, get ahead of legislation, and be recognised for their efforts.

Food waste

The changing context since Roadmap launch

The biggest change in context for the UK since the roadmap launched in 2018 has been the launch of the Resources and Waste Strategy by Defra. The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own strategies on food waste. 

Titled “Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England” it contains a whole chapter (Chapter 5 – Enough is enough: Cutting down on food waste) devoted to food waste, in which the roadmap is embedded (see section 5.1.2).

The new strategy will focus on the following themes:

  • More effectively redistribute food to those who need it most before it can go to waste
  • Consult on annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses – aligned with the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap
  • Consult on legal powers to introduce food waste targets and surplus food redistribution obligations
  • Publish a new food surplus and waste hierarchy
  • Promote awareness of the issue by appointing a new food waste champion
  • Support cross sector collaboration

This strategy was published on 18th December 2018, and was quickly followed by the appointment of the new food waste champion on 31st December 2018. 

Implications of this changing context

The most significant implication is likely to come from the consultation on annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses. 

At the time of writing, this consultation is expected to take place during the Summer of 2019. It is likely to focus on the scope of reporting, and the range of businesses required to report. The additional proposal to consult on powers to set mandatory targets in due course strengthens the likelihood of legislative intervention in food waste reduction.

Mandatory reporting will be based on the roadmap. This is clear from the strategy, and this has been further endorsed by Defra Ministers, providing a very clear and compelling call to action for businesses in committing to the roadmap before legislation compels them to do so. 

The appointment of a high-profile food waste champion with an ambitious agenda has increased the importance of food waste reduction within stakeholder, media and consumer arenas. It could affect the reputation of individual businesses, and the industry as a whole. 

Businesses making progress

At the time of writing, 83 food businesses support the roadmap. These include businesses from across the entire UK food supply chain – retail, food manufacturers, primary producers, fresh produce, meat, fish, poultry, hospitality and food service, restaurant groups and more.

In addition, there are 24 trade bodies and supporting businesses that support the roadmap. These include the biggest trade bodies, sector specialist trade bodies, and organisations that provide expert input and support to the food industry.

The number of companies that provide evidence of Target Measure Act is steadily increasing as companies complete the reporting requirements of the roadmap – Courtauld 2025, the Tesco supplier reporting initiative, and the Roadmap survey which is applicable to the majority of businesses.

At individual company level, there is increasing momentum behind public reporting. 

1) In April 2019, Co-op became the sixth UK food retailer to report publicly on its food waste performance, in its Co-op Way Report 2018. Highlights from this report (P17) include:

  • Co-op’s food waste strategy and reporting has followed best practice under WRAP/IGD’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap
  • Development of a new strategy to make sure they always follow the food waste hierarchy and take the best step for the environment
  • 97% of total operational waste was reused, recycled or recovered (2017: 96%)
  • 29% reduction in food waste generated since 2015

2) In their 2018 Sustainability Report, Greencore report their performance on food waste, and on their contribution to the Task & Finish Group which developed the roadmap.

  • In the UK, total food waste for FY18 was 40,912 tonnes, a reduction of 1,268 tonnes versus FY17
  • In January 2019, Greencore became the first company to publish its food waste inventory using the suite of templates provided by the roadmap
  • The narrative in this inventory highlights the use of their Manufacturing Excellence improvement team across UK sites to deliver specific tools to reduce food waste. These include regular reporting and collaborative sessions and new techniques to drive waste reduction and yield improvement

Looking ahead

Great work continues within individual companies, which is reducing food waste and generating a range of financial, environmental and reputational benefits. However, much of this work also remains hidden from the rest of industry and its stakeholders, while media and stakeholder scrutiny on food waste is likely to grow.

The Food Waste Reduction Roadmap provides the perfect means for companies to share their successes and lessons learned. It also provides the means for companies and the whole industry to be prepared for future reporting requirements. 

Therefore, we look forward to more companies supporting the roadmap, and delivering on Target Measure Act. Together, we are stronger.