The war on food waste

Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, discusses the ‘escalating issue of food waste’ and why he thinks government funding is more important than ever before.

Earlier this year, the government announced plans to axe its funding for food redistribution programmes. It’s a move that redistribution charity Fareshare claims could result in enough food for 53 million meals being left to rot in landfill.

Indeed, since 2018, the government has been contributing £5m per year to help farmers and retailers transport unsold food to approved charity redistribution partners. However, with budgets tightening, available finance for this food waste fund has been cut, and appeals for it to be reinstated are seemingly falling on deaf ears.

This is absolutely a step in the wrong direction for the UK’s fight against food waste. Currently, one in eight people in the UK are struggling to buy food and, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more families are unsure where their next meal may come from.

Allowing millions of tonnes of fresh produce to add to our national food waste mountain is therefore simply unconscionable. For years now, food redistribution programmes have played an important role in ensuring that perfectly edible food waste is eaten rather than binned – while consequently helping to tackle the issue of food poverty.

Let’s be frank. The war on food waste is far from being won.

But it’s not just axed funding that is impacting on our national food waste figures. According to statistics from WRAP, household volumes are starting to creep back up. Indeed, while food waste fell substantially during the first lockdown, there’s growing evidence suggesting that this positive impact was temporary.

As such, not only has food waste returned to pre-COVID levels, but we’re now on the edge of seeing volumes increase year-on-year, rather than continuing to fall as they have done for the past decade.

Despite huge progress from across the supply chain, which has seen annual food waste figures drop from 14 million tonnes per annum in 2011 to 10.4 million in 2019, we’re at serious risk of reversing the positive progress we’ve made.

But what would the implications of this be? Well, for a start, food waste left to rot in landfill generates greenhouse gases considered more than 21 times more damaging to the planet than CO2. So, serious environmental impact – not to mention the escalating rates of food poverty.

These are the very reasons why we’re trying to reduce the UK’s food waste – it would be a travesty to go backwards in our efforts to eliminate waste especially at a time when more people than ever are going hungry.

A key national priority

But what’s the solution? Well, for a start, we need support from those in power when it comes to food waste reduction initiatives. Our thinking is simple:

  • Maintaining the £5m spend on redistribution schemes is a valuable solution to cutting waste, preventing landfill and tackling food poverty
  • Additional funding is essential to help pioneer new and innovative programmes to further reduce food waste

But while these points would help to tackle the avoidable fraction of food waste, thought must still be given to the unavoidable fraction – the shells, gristle, bones and spoiled produce which simply can’t be eliminated. In this instance, we need to increase the uptake of food waste recycling and ensure that homeowners are provided with access to regular kerbside collections – specifically for food waste.

Anaerobic digestion (AD), the process used to recycle food waste, is universally accepted by multiple sources (including the British government, Defra, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and Friends of the Earth) as the most effective method of managing unavoidable food waste.

A distinct lack of government support means providing food waste recycling services to households has always been a challenge.

At ReFood, we use AD to capture the biogas produced by the natural degradation of food and turn it into renewable energy. The resulting digestate is also used to create a sustainable biofertiliser; enabling beneficial nutrients to be reinvested back into the food chain.

Turning unwanted waste into green energy, while diverting resource away from already overflowing landfill, makes AD a simple and effective solution. The processing capacity and the supply chain network are in place; and more and more businesses are embracing food waste recycling services.

But a distinct lack of government support means providing food waste recycling services to households has always been a challenge. It has been left to individual local authorities and, as a result of the lack of public investment, most consumers are still forced to send their personal food waste to landfill.

The sad fact is that support to tackle food waste appears to be starting to dry up at a time when it has never been more important. Let’s be frank. The war on food waste is far from being won. Now should be the time for government to really get behind the battle to tackle waste – not for a decrease in funding and fading support.

With so many negative consequences linked to food waste, this should be a key national priority. As such, we’re fully behind calls to reinstate the redistribution scheme funding. It makes sense on so many levels.

Send this to a friend