Are We Going Far Enough On Food Waste?

Philip-Simpson-PDM-GroupThe Circular Economy Package is a huge step towards supporting sustainability, but does it go far enough when it comes to food waste? Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, asks the question, and looks to provide the answer…


In December 2015, the European Commission voted in favour of adopting a new Circular Economy package – an EU-wide initiative to help all member states make the transition to a resource efficient economy. The package of measures is designed to close the loop of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, extracting the maximum value from all raw materials, products and waste. The Commission estimates that the measures could lead to net savings of €600 billion for businesses in the EU, as well as reduce total global Greenhouse Gas Emissions by up to four percent.

The Circular Economy Package sets out an action plan, timetable and three common legislative EU targets that should be achieved by 2030. The targets will require 65 percentof all municipal waste to be recycled, no more than 10 percent of waste sent to landfill and 75 percent of packaging waste to be recycled. However, while the Package states that action will be taken to ensure food waste is halved by 2030, there are no legally binding targets.

While the measures have been broadly welcomed as an important and positive step towards resource efficiency, there has also been some criticism. On the one hand, some member states, such as the UK and Romania, have said the legislative targets are too high, yet on the other, there is widespread disappointment from the waste management industry, believing that the recycling targets have actually been watered down from earlier versions of the Circular Economy Report. Indeed the re-use and recycling target for municipal waste originally put forward by the Commission was 70 percent, but has been dropped to 65 percent in the approved version.

Another, more controversial, decision is that seven countries – Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Malta, Romania and Slovakia – are allowed an additional five years to meet their waste targets due to the current lower recycling rates and lack of waste management infrastructure. Whilst this has been welcomed by many minsters, others feel it creates an uneven playing field.

A Positive Step Forward

food-waste-plate-scrapeAs a leading food waste recycler, at ReFood we believe that the introduction of this clear legislative action on waste and recycling is, overall, very positive. Legislation, as well as behavioural change, is needed to address the throwaway nature of our society and the Circular Economy Package will help to drive much needed change in the UK.

However, like many others in the industry, we are disappointed to see that waste reduction targets have already been lowered and some member states are not committed to achieving their goals. Our concern is that these targets could be decreased further in the future, or pushed back past 2030. Yet, our biggest area of frustration surrounds the removal of legally binding targets when it comes to cutting food waste. The previous version of the Circular Economy report included a target for cutting food waste by 30 percent by 2025, which would be aligned to the Sustainable Development Goal recently agreed by the UN. As MP Kerry McCarthy has commented, this now means there is no indication as to how this vital UN goal will be achieved at a European level.

Food waste is a significant concern in Europe, as well as across the globe. In fact, it is estimated that around 100 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in the EU. The Circular Economy Package does include proposed actions to reduce food waste – such as improved date marking – but as we know all too well in the UK, without legal requirements, behavioural change is a much harder and lengthier process.

We are also disappointed to see that the landfill target has been relaxed. The new proposal includes a binding target to reduce landfill of municipal waste to a maximum of 10 percent by 2030. However, in a previous version, the target was only five percent and there was a ban on sending recyclable and compostable waste to landfill, which is no longer included. We have been campaigning for a long time for the UK to implement a ban on food waste going to landfill and it is frustrating that the Circular Economy Package isn’t seemingly the legal catalyst for change in this area that it could have been.

However, we are pleased to see that the proposals specify that member states should “ensure” the separate collection of bio-waste (including food waste), as opposed to previously just encouraging this action.

It is our hope that this requirement will drive greater action for UK business and local authorities to ensure separate food waste collections become an integral part of day-to-day waste management. The benefits, as outlined in our Vision2020 roadmap to eradicating food waste to landfill document, are clear and substantial. Alongside reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 27m tonnes, there could be potential savings of more than £12bn for homeowners and £2bn by UK PLC. What’s more, by recycling such a valuable resource, we could generate more than 1.1TWh of renewable energy and return more than 1.3m tonnes of valuable nutrients to the soil.

Despite its weakened targets, the Circular Economy Package is indeed a huge step in the right direction for a more sustainable society. However it needs the solid backing of UK Government to implement legislative and behavioural changes in order to meet these goals. Like other member states, the UK has missed EU legislative requirements before, such as those for air pollution reduction, meaning we need clear and decisive action to ensure that these waste and landfill targets are met. What’s more, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal, further action needs to be taken to reduce and recycle food waste in this country, realising its value as a renewable energy source, rather than sending it to landfill.


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