Public Sector Should Cut Food Waste To Deal With Budget Austerity

Food-waste-budgetReducing food waste could help hard-pressed public services deal with the spending cuts announced by the Chancellor in the budget, according to a waste management company.

Food waste costs the public sector £150m a year and up to 50% of this could be saved by adopting a co-ordinated strategy to minimise food waste, according to Marc Zornes co-founder and CEO of food waste reduction specialist Winnow.

Reacting to the cuts announced by George Osborne MP, Mr Zornes said: “The government’s £2bn food and catering spend presents a clear opportunity to save millions.

“Food waste is costing the public purse as much as £150m per year. That’s the equivalent of funding over 6,000 teachers, 1,400 doctors or 750 fire engines. The savings opportunity is huge.

“Investing in reducing food waste is a sound business decision for the public sector, and we encourage catering managers to explore the potential for reducing costs for their respective operations”

“We have worked with a number of schools, hospitals and universities who all have found significant value in using the Winnow System to measure, benchmark and reduce food waste. Working in kitchens like these, we’re able to cut food waste in half on average with investment paying back in under 12 months.

“Investing in reducing food waste is a sound business decision for the public sector, and we encourage catering managers to explore the potential for reducing costs for their respective operations.”

In light of the renewed squeeze on public spending, Winnow is calling on senior policy makers to ensure reducing food waste is a strategic priority across education, healthcare and services. Specifically they should:

  • Invest in training for kitchen teams to understand the true cost of food waste to their operations
  • Invest in technology to creating accurately measure food waste and create meaningful benchmarks across sectors
  • Empower teams to take action within their own operations to reduce food waste and reward creativity
  • Continue to support the excellent work WRAP and other partners are pursuing to share best practice and information to reduce food waste.

Food Waste

WRAP estimate that in 2016 food waste could cost the entire hospitality and foodservice sector £3bn, which would equate to an estimated £150m for the public sector. 

In total the public sector currently spends over £2bn annually on food and catering services across central offices, health, defence, schools and higher education. In fact, the UK government as a purchaser represents 5.5% of total foodservice sector sales.

Schools and higher education combined total 58% of the total public service procurement costs.  Research by WRAP shows that food waste is costing the education sector alone £250m.

Even adjusting for private education, the total cost to the department for education is huge. English primary schools alone were found to generate 55,408 tonnes of food waste and 24,974 tonnes by secondary schools. The same study found that the bulk of food waste at both secondary (77%) and primary (78%) was avoidable. 

WRAP also estimate that the services sector (Ministry of Defence and prisons combined) produces over 68,000 tonnes of food waste at a cost of £112m each year including food procurement, labour utilities and waste management.

Meanwhile in the NHS anObserver study of NHS data found that hospitals were wasting as much as 82,000 meals per day.The Campaign for Better Hospital food estimate this figure to be much higher at 400,000 uneaten meals thrown in the bin each day and point to quality as a key factor in the amount of waste being produced across the health service.

Some of the public sector recognise the huge savings opportunity that cutting avoidable food waste presents – all central government departments are supporters of the HaFSA Voluntary Agreement, and theNHS has developed detailed guidance, templates and checklists for hospital teams to manually monitor food waste.

In the education sector forward thinking schools like Didcot Girl’s school believe they have cut food waste by over 75% by making sure the menu is right. Cabbage is sautéed for example rather than boiled, sauces are made fresh and a range of vegetables are on offer for pupils with different tastes. The team there keep a close eye on what sells, making sure they are serving children what they want.

The challenge now is driving food waste prevention at scale rather than in individual schools or hospitals where early adopters champion the cause. Monitoring food waste effectively is key to driving change throughout the public sector, both from the perspective of understanding where food waste occurs throughout the production process as well as understanding the customer’s preferences.


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