Action At All Levels Key To Tackling Food Waste

Scotland’s food waste target is ambitious and getting there is going to be a “big challenge”. But that challenge is only equalled by the benefits that can be achieved in getting there, says Iain Clunie, food and drink programme manager, Zero Waste Scotland.

The recent appointment of England’s first Food Waste Tsar was accompanied by some sobering statistics. The widely reported suggestion that the equivalent of 250 million meals is being wasted each year is shocking but that’s at the lower end of estimates. Food waste experts WRAP put the figure at over 1 billion.

The UN estimates that, if food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter globally, behind only the United States and China. When you factor in the economic losses associated with that waste, it’s little wonder the UK government is taking the issue seriously.

Of course, they are not alone in doing so. Action is being demanded – and taken – at all levels. The European Union has already committed to meeting the food waste commitments included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Scottish Government is working to cut food waste by 33% by 2025.

Scotland’s target is ambitious and getting there is going to be a big challenge. But that challenge is only equalled by the benefits that can be achieved in getting there.

The most obvious benefit is to our environment. When food goes to landfill, it produces methane, a gas that can be even more damaging to our environment than CO2. Indeed, food highlights an important fact about our waste more generally – when it comes to the environment, not every tonne of waste is equal.

To demonstrate this, Zero Waste Scotland created the Carbon Metric, which measures the lifecycle impacts of waste, showing how waste reduction and sustainable waste management can play a critical role in the fight against climate change. In 2016, food waste accounted for only 5% of Scotland’s waste by weight, but 22% of the waste carbon impacts. Tackling food waste could give us a big step towards meeting our wider climate commitments.

Scotland’s target is ambitious and getting there is going to be a big challenge. But that challenge is only equalled by the benefits that can be achieved in getting there.

But even if we were to set the environmental rationale aside, the case for tackling food waste would be unassailable. In Scotland alone, households throw out 600,000 tonnes of food and drink each year and most of this is avoidable. The cost of this works out at around £460 per household per year, money that could surely be put to better use.

It’s not just consumers that are losing money. There’s a big impact on businesses too. In 2013, WRAP estimated that the cost of wasted food in the UK’s Hospitality and Food Service was around £2.5bn each year. There’s clearly huge potential there for businesses to recapture some of that value.

Businesses also need to take into account that consumers’ expectations are changing. A recent survey from ThoughtWorks suggests that food waste will be a major driver of consumer decisions, with almost half of respondents ranking it as a strong factor in making purchases.

It’s hardly surprising that consumers feel this way. We have a direct and emotional relationship with our food and many feel a powerful sense of moral failing that what could be giving someone a good meal is ending up in the bin.

No one is expecting people to make this change alone. Changing the habits of a lifetime will be hard. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign runs across the UK, giving advice to consumers on how to reduce their own food waste. Often the most effective measures are the simplest. You might be surprised at how big an impact meal planning and writing a shopping list can make.

Zero Waste Scotland offers free food waste audits and implementation support to help SMEs cut their costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Zero Waste Scotland offers these one-to-one audits carried out by specialist consultants to help evaluate existing food and drink waste streams and provide detailed recommendations on how the waste can be reduced.

Another key element of our offering to the hospitality sector is Good to Go, a doggy bag scheme that encourages people to take home their uneaten food from restaurants. To date, we’ve supported more than 200 SMEs through the scheme and more are still coming on board.

Excitingly, many businesses are also exploring options to turn what might have been wasted into an opportunity. We recently funded Glasgow’s Revive Eco to develop their business that will turn used coffee grounds into high value bio-oils, which have a wide range of valuable applications including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food and drink.

With such strong appetite to tackle waste, and support on hand to make the necessary changes, I hope the battle against food waste will continue to hit the headlines this year.

For more information on the support available to businesses in Scotland to reduce food waste, visit Resource Efficient Scotland or Zero Waste Scotland.


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