Can the cost-of-living crisis help local authorities prepare for food waste collections in 2023?

Alison Kemp, Technical Director Wardell Armstrong, explores how the cost-of-living crisis is driving consumers to be more conscious of food waste and how this could inspire behaviour changes that reduce food waste long term while saving households money too.

The news is well populated with stories about the cost-of-living crisis, and how this is hitting households and businesses hard and indiscriminately across the UK at the moment.

One area in particular that is making headlines is the challenges faced by families when trying to ensure that they can put food on the table, and added to that, that the food they buy can provide a nutritious meal.

Now more than ever, I think that households will be more conscious of how much they are spending on food and how much food they are throwing away, and the situation is not likely to improve any time soon.

9.5 million tonnes of food waste is thrown away over a year in the UK, Business Waste says.

This could provide an opportune moment for local authorities to ramp up the engagement and communications campaigns around food waste. With more information and wider circulation on aspects such as using the freezer to preserve food, tips for repurposing leftovers, inspiration for tasty and balanced meals from cheap cupboard staples, and how to meal plan for the week to avoid overbuying.

The prominent message throughout all of this communication can be the financial savings potential of minimising the amount of food that is wasted. This, coupled with the robust environmental benefits that reducing waste food delivers, should give a clear and appealing message to consumers at a time when it will be very welcome and help to drive the move towards reducing food waste on both a local and national scale.

For those local authorities that are not already implementing weekly food waste collections, the need to start putting in place infrastructure to deliver this ahead of 2023 is high on the agenda of council waste teams.

Further pushing the food waste reduction message outlined above now, could help to drive the move to more sustainable long-term behavioural change by householders and businesses.

This, in turn, might enable data to be gathered around anticipated participation rates and tonnages that more accurately reflect the likely position in the longer term, enabling more informed decisions to be made regarding requirements for food waste collection rounds, vehicles numbers and capacities, processing capacity, and potential revenue streams from energy production and offtake arrangements.

Being in a position to develop a more robust business case for the food waste collection and processing infrastructure early, should help to empower local authorities to commit to longer term, and potentially better value contracts, and go some way to protect local authorities from the risks associated with investing in surplus vehicles, oversized facilities, committing to contributing excess tonnages or overestimating costs, and revenue opportunities.

The rising cost of living, from buying food to heating homes, is set to continue, and if any positives can come from this, hopefully engaging with consumers about how they can mitigate some of the impacts of this through careful food purchasing, preparation and storage will not only reduce our food waste tonnages nationally but also enable us to deliver more efficient and appropriate organic waste management infrastructure.

This will also help to make a significant contribution towards achieving our carbon targets, an area which also needs to be high on the agenda and get at least an equal level of media coverage.

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