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Eat up and minimise food waste

Date: 30/09/2013 | Author: Adrienne Robins

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Quantum PR director Adrienne Robins looks at food waste and why we need to get better at dealing with it

Sunday lunch at a north London gastropub - it should have been perfect - except I made the fatal mistake of asking for a doggy bag. “Sorry madam, we don’t do doggy bags. It’s against health and safety.”

Back home, and straight on to Google, it appears that there’s a long running debate about doggy bag use in UK restaurants. I wonder which side Jamie (reduce your waste by freezing your herbs) Oliver or Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh take.

Because whether you’re a Government minister, local authority officer, celebrity chef, grocery retailer or a plain old consumer, cutting food waste is a hot topic, promising not only environmental benefits in the form of landfill diversion and methane gas reduction, but also cost savings at almost every level.

Despite widespread awareness, we’ve been slow to tackle the issue. Perhaps because of the complexities, size and variety of stakeholders involved.

Food manufacturing is the UK’s single largest manufacturing sector. The food and drink supply chain accounts for 7 per cent of GDP, employs 3.7m people, and generates £80bn a year. The amount of food waste sent to landfill is about 8 per cent, with WRAP reporting waste of 14.2 million tonnes a year and the Global Food Security (GFS) programme quoting a figure of 15m tonnes. Startlingly, these reports show that only half of food waste generated by businesses in the food and drink sector is recycled, composted or reused. 

Household food waste is estimated at 4.1m tonnes a year, equating to a wasted annual expenditure of £480.

These are the figures that sit behind the proposed Labour manifesto plan to ban food waste from landfill. Announced by Mary Creagh at the Labour party’s annual conference, she reiterated the prospect of a food waste use hierarchy, previously mooted at the Resource Leaders’ Summit in June, whereby food waste prevention measures would prioritise human consumption for still edible items, followed by use in animal feed with anaerobic digestion used only for food which cannot be consumed.

Banning waste from landfill isn’t a new idea. The Labour proposal follows a lead taken by Phil Hogan, Ireland’s Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, who announced plans to ban food waste from landfill earlier this year.

Northern Ireland’s Department of the Environment also launched a consultation on the introduction of restrictions on the landfilling of food waste last month while biodegradable municipal waste will be banned from landfill in Scotland from 1 January 2021.

With an election still 18 months away, there is a chance, however, that authorities, industry and householders will make sufficient progress in the reduction of food waste in the intervening period to negate the need for such a ban. Certainly, there appears to be the commitment and understanding across most stakeholders to do so.

Waste minimisation impacts in the grocery supply chain are being driven by the Courtauld Commitment while the Love Food Hate Waste Campaign is helping householders to change  shopping and food use behaviours. Whether environmental commitment, cost savings or a combination of the two is behind the change is unknown, but the fact remains that change is happening – ban or no ban.

Although at the bottom of the proposed food waste hierarchy, the UK’s anaerobic digestion capacity will also certainly increase within the period. At last review there were 106 plants (outside of the water industry) processing up to 5.1 million tonnes of food and farm waste a year, and with the capacity to produce 88MWe. There are a further 200 plants with capacity to process an additional 7 million tonnes of waste in planning. The food waste hierarchy will certainly bring less certainty to the AD feedstock market.

One area where improvement is needed is within the restaurant and hospitality sector. A recent study by The Sustainable Restaurant Association found that 70 per cent of diners would be prepared to pay more to eat in a sustainable restaurant – and found that consumers were concerned about restaurant waste. As a result the Association has launched a new sustainability accreditation scheme for food destinations.

I wonder, does this scheme factor in the waste minimisation potential of doggy bags? 

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