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Blog: The circular economy - where does food fit in?

Date: 27/11/2013 | Author: Paul Featherstone

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It is something that most individuals are guilty of producing, but how does food waste slot into the circular economy? Paul Featherstone, group director at surplus food recycler SugaRich investigates.

There can be no denying that the UK has a food waste challenge on its hands. A report published by WRAP last month, highlighted that food waste in UK homes is costing the country a staggering £12.5 billion a year.

Add to this the problem of surplus food created by manufacturers, retailers and eateries, and the issue is magnified. Manufacturing by-products, production errors, trial runs, overcooking, packaging errors and the wrongs weights and sizes, all contribute to a number of foodstuffs never reaching the retail shelves. In shops and supermarkets, supply chain issues, over-ordering, out of date stock, damaged goods and discerning consumer tastes mean further products remain unsold.

It is perhaps no wonder that a third of the world’s food is wasted, which is simply unacceptable.  

It is important to note that progress is being made. Since 2007, the level of avoidable household food waste in this country has improved by 21%. However the UK needs more momentum. And, to strengthen our economy and the UK’s approach to resource efficiency, more changes need to be made in business, as well as in the home.

Campaigns are continually being launched in an attempt to reduce the level of food waste generated. Factories and retailers for example, are trying to tackle the factors that contribute to products being undesirable or unsellable, and they are talking to customers to change perceptions, alter buying habits and encourage more efficient food consumption.

Elsewhere anaerobic digestion is attracting increased attention. However, in line with the waste hierarchy, once reduction efforts have been made, priority should be given to the reuse and recycling of what businesses might perceive as ‘waste’ materials.

Thankfully, a growing number of organisations are saying no to disposal and are looking for a solution that harnesses the value of residual food, so that it doesn’t become a waste. And with this, more businesses are gradually buying into the concept of the circular economy and are seeking the environmental, commercial and altruistic benefits that come with a closed loop business model.

Starch-rich foodstuffs including confectionery, crisps, bread, biscuits and breakfast cereals for example, can be recovered and converted into high quality ingredients for use in animal feed. Packaging materials can even be extracted for recycling.

Of course this process is subject to a number of stringent regulation and safety checks. However the resulting advantages are multi-faceted. This approach ensures waste hierarchy compliance, saves money and reduces the environmental damage that would otherwise be caused if the food was incinerated or landfilled and left to biodegrade. Furthermore, creating a high energy feed from products unsuitable for human consumption, can boost the future quality of livestock products that people subsequently eat.

This plough to plate methodology is, in essence, transforming the age-old concept of the linear food chain into a circular model. It is supporting the very sustenance of animal and mankind, at the same time as encouraging progress towards our 2020 food waste targets.

Many industry professionals feel that the challenge to halve food waste over the next seven years is too ambitious. However, as closed loop practices heighten their profile in the UK, small organisations – as well as large corporations – are getting on board and taking action of their own. As a result, a more defined and progressive waste strategy is taking shape on a national scale.

With continued momentum, perhaps the UK’s vision of zero food waste to landfill could in fact be accomplished.



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