With 6m people in food poverty, no good food should go to waste but, for a variety of reasons, too much still does, says Mark Varney, director of food at FareShare ahead of his appearance next month at the Resourcing The Future 2016 conference
From headlines about wonky veg boxes, to new laws making it mandatory for French and Italian supermarkets to donate their surplus food to charities, the issue of food waste has never been higher on the public agenda.
Globally, a third of the food that is produced never reaches our plates. While some of that waste occurs in our homes, here in the UK nearly 4m tonnes of food is wasted each year in the supply chain. FareShare estimates that about 10 percent of that – 400,000 tonnes – is still in-date and perfectly good to eat, but for a whole host of reasons such as over-production, a short shelf life, mislabelling or damaged packaging, it becomes surplus to requirements, usually at the manufacturer or processor.
Environmental Problem, Social Solution
FareShare works in partnership with more than 450 companies across the UK – including retailers such as Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and the Co-operative, and manufacturers including Kellogg’s and Nestlé – to help them identify where surplus food occurs in their business and establish processes to anticipate and segregate the surplus that’s still good to eat. FareShare then redistributes that food to charities and community groups, including homeless shelters, children’s breakfast clubs and women’s refuges, so these businesses not only reduce their environmental impact, they also make a positive contribution to society, which can boost staff and stakeholder engagement.
Thanks to support from food and drink businesses, last year FareShare was able to redistribute an incredible 18.3m meals to people in need, from food that might otherwise have gone to waste. Yet just two percent of good, surplus food in the supply chain is redistributed in this way. So what happens to the rest?
While, in theory, all businesses should follow the waste hierarchy – prevention or redistribution where possible, followed by recycling, recovery and disposal, where no other option is available – in practice, many businesses dispose of surplus food via anaerobic digestion (AD) or supply it as animal feed.
The ability to create green energy from food waste is a wonderful thing, but with almost 6m people in the UK living in food poverty, the first priority for good, edible food should be feeding hungry people, not generating energy or animal feed. In the UK, there are financial incentives for generating energy through AD – which we support – but the same incentives do not currently exist for businesses that redirect their surplus food to charities. This often means that it is cheaper to throw food away or recycle it than it is to provide it for redistribution. We’d like policy makers to ensure there’s a level playing field so that companies aren’t incentivised to dispose of perfectly good food that could feed hungry people.
And for any business that thinks it can’t redistribute short-dated produce, such as meat, poultry or fish, we’d like to reassure them that’s not the case. FareShare redistributes a wide range of fresh produce, which charities and community groups then turn into nutritious meals. But the impact goes much further than that, because those meals are delivered alongside life-changing support and other interventions that can help tackle the causes of food poverty, and help people to get back on their feet.
France Can Do It, So Can We…
Food redistributed by FareShare saves charities and community groups an estimated £19.6m a year. Without this lifeline, one in five of the charities and community groups supplied by FareShare say they would probably have to close, while many more say they would have to reduce the amount or quality of food they offer, or cut back other services. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we aim to grow the volume of surplus food that is redistributed to charity to 100,000 tonnes a year.
That may sound ambitious, but France currently redistributes 20 times more surplus food than we do in the UK, and the US, Spain and Italy redistribute similar volumes, so we know it can be done.
Mark Varney is director of food at FareShare, where he is responsible for the charity’s partnerships with food and drink companies. FareShare fights hunger by redistributing good food that would otherwise be wasted, to thousands of frontline charities and community groups. www.fareshare.org.uk
Mark is speaking on the subject of food waste at the upcoming Resourcing The Future conference,
on Wednesday 15 June.
Click here to visit www.ciwm.co.uk/rtf to book your place and to see the full programme.