Why communication is key to maximising the impact of impending food waste legislation


Ed Willmott, managing director of Prova, discusses the sizeable environmental opportunity presented by upcoming food waste legislation and explains why communication is key to driving widespread behavioural change and maximising long-term positive impact. 

As part of new legislation outlined within the Environment Act, the UK government will finally begin the roll-out of mandatory food waste collections in 2025. From 31 March, businesses will be required to segregate their food waste and arrange separate collections. 12 months later, from 31 March 2026, dedicated uniform kerbside collections will be introduced for homeowners.

While a number of caveats remain, including grace periods for local authorities who are tied into long-term waste management contracts, it’s safe to say that the move will offer a game changing solution to directly tackle the rising volume of food waste sent to landfill in the UK every year.  

However, as with any new legislation, successful implementation, positive behavioural change and long-term impact relies heavily upon effective communication. Without a clear plan and a robust strategy, there’s a risk that the opportunity could simply fall flat.

What’s wrong with landfilling food waste?

Since the early 1990s, responsibility for developing and implementing localised waste management systems has been devolved from central government to the local authority level. While providing a considered mechanism to craft processes around specific geographic requirements and budgetary parameters, this approach has resulted in a number of unnecessary complications.

Take food waste as an example. Research suggests that c.50% of all domestic waste is comprised entirely of food (everything from plate scrapings, shells, gristle and bones, to spoiled produce). WRAP equates this to 6.7m tonnes per annum, the vast majority of which is sent straight to landfill. 

With landfill sites bursting at the seams, logic suggests that finding an alternative approach should be somewhat of a priority. However, with councils struggling to keep budgets under control, just a handful of local authorities opt to recycle their food.

With every tonne of food left to rot in landfill said to release greenhouse gases considered 21 times more damaging than CO2, ignoring the problem is fuelling the fire

The knock-on environmental impact is concerning. After all, with every tonne of food left to rot in landfill said to release greenhouse gases considered 21 times more damaging than CO2, ignoring the problem is fuelling the fire. As a result, we continue to see a ‘postcode lottery’ of collection systems.

When it comes to commercial waste, limited guidance or legislation binding companies to best practice means that only the most environmentally-conscious of firms have made the proactive decision to embrace alternative waste management strategies. Millions elsewhere continue to rely on dated and damaging solutions. 

At Prova, we’ve been working with businesses across the supply chain for more than ten years to not only collate the evidence required to push for mandatory collections, but also position this work in front of government to drive positive legislative change. It has been littered with government backtracking and industry setbacks, but we’re confident that food waste legislation outlined within the Environment Act will finally stick.

What happens to recycled food?

Food waste

Widely considered the environmentally-friendly alternative to landfill or incineration, food waste recycling sees organic material broken down via the anaerobic digestion (AD) process to release methane. This gas can either be combusted through combined heat and power (CHP) engines to generate renewable electricity, or upgraded to reflect the properties of natural gas and injected directly into the national gas grid. 

Even the resulting liquid digestate can be repurposed, most commonly as a sustainable liquid alternative to chemical-based fertilisers. There is absolutely no waste created during the process, with end-of-life materials embraced as valuable resources – the perfect example of a circular economy. 

Across the UK, food waste recycling facilities are already prevalent and have sufficient capacity to handle the increasing volume of food that will be diverted from landfill as part of new legislative measures. The benefits of doing this are two-fold – firstly, you realise the environmental benefits of fewer carbon emissions. Secondly, you awaken yet another alternative renewable energy source, which consequently reduces national reliance on gas imports from overseas. 

It’s also worth mentioning that, for business customers, there will no longer be expensive landfill tax payments to make. As a result, companies can (in some cases) effectively halve their waste management costs.

How can we maximise the impact of impending legislation?

Ensuring optimum results and achieving positive change will not happen automatically. Whether at a commercial or household level, communication is key to ensuring widespread buy-in.

Buy what does that mean in practice? What exactly needs to happen from a communications perspective and who is responsible for delivering it? What needs to be done in the short, medium and long-term? 

Well, let’s break it down. Firstly, we need to communicate effectively about upcoming changes and exactly what they will mean – both the challenges and opportunities presented. This requires collaboration from across the supply chain, from regulators and producers, to retailers and recyclers. It’s up to all of us to take responsibility and maximise the opportunity for the greatest possible impact. It takes time and it costs money, but it’s an essential part of legislative change. 

Communication is imperative in the long-term to ensure repetition and reinforcement of messages. After all, legislation is far from a green button solution and maintaining engagement is just as important as initial education. 

Next, we must assume that many new policies will experience teething issues. Whether technology, process or complexity, it’s unlikely that any new legislation will be adopted seamlessly from day one. As a result, it’s almost a certainty that we need to be prepared for some level of resistance and push-back. Clear communication is essential to not only guide consumers through the evolving landscape, but also explain the necessity for change. When things need adjusting, communications can prove the saving grace.

Finally, communication is imperative in the long-term to ensure repetition and reinforcement of messages. After all, legislation is far from a green button solution and maintaining engagement is just as important as initial education. 

This is exactly what we’re beginning to see with overall recycling rates. To counter this, we need constant, positive reminders – both in terms of best practice and demonstrations of impact. After all, we’re asking for behavioural change, but must appreciate that the ‘why’ must also be answered. 

What are the risks of getting it wrong? 

Food waste

The opportunity for upcoming food waste legislation to drive a positive change is simply a once-in-a-generation type affair. If we get it right, we will achieve a far more logical, valuable, forward-thinking system that has the potential to capture higher volumes of better quality recycling. We simply can’t afford to make mistakes. As such, we come back yet again to the importance of communication in making legislation stick first time. 

So, whether direct marketing materials to explain changes to weekly collections, national TV advertising to explain the intricacies, direct correspondence to impacted businesses, or simply ensuring that the industry is front and centre of the media talking about best practice, it’s fair to say that a joined-up, collaborative approach is essential to make the most of the opportunity in front of us. 

As we draw ever closer to the introduction of new food waste legislation, we need to think carefully about the importance of communication in delivering the best possible results. At Prova, we help brands operating across cleantech, future mobility and the circular economy to grow and thrive. For us, storytelling is simply second nature. We’ve helped to drive legislative change and maximise impact. As such, we’re acutely aware of the mountainous challenge in front of us when it comes to navigating the legislative landscape of tomorrow. 

For more information about Prova, or its unique approach to delivering strategic communications programmes for the industry’s leading brands, visit www.provapr.co.uk.

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