Food waste could be cut by a quarter by 2025

17th May 2016

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Obiajulu Tawose

Waste food from the grocery supply chain could be reduced by 23% over the next decade, according to new figures from waste advisory body Wrap.

The organisation has published a report outlining the findings of a review of surplus and waste food from UK food manufacturers and retailers, which was funded mainly by the environment department (Defra) and the Welsh government.

The study identified around 450 kilo tonnes (kt) of food waste a year that could be prevented by 2025, a reduction of 23% compared to levels reported today, Wrap estimated.

Realising this potential would be ‘hugely challenging’ and would involve a combination of prevention of waste, redistribution of unavoidable food surplus to people, and the diversion of food no longer suitable for human consumption to animal feed.

Wrap found that around 270kt of current food surplus and waste might be suitable for redistribution. It estimated that redistribution could increase four-fold, to the equivalent of at least 360 million meals.

The amount of food surplus diverted to animal feed could also increase, by up to 20%, the study found. Wrap has published new guidance to help food and drink manufacturers and retailers identify, manage and divert food surplus to animal feed in line with legislation.

Wrap found that food waste levels were lower than previously calculated. Total food waste in the grocery supply chain, including both avoidable and unavoidable waste, is 1.9Mt, compared with estimates in 2011 of 3.9Mt.

The majority of food waste (1.7Mt) occurs during manufacturing, representing around 4.2% of UK production. Around 210kt of waste is produced by retailers, which is less than 1% by weight of annual food sales in the UK.

Wrap said that the revised figures reflect a better understanding of waste streams, which allowed it to exclude waste from with food production process that was not food. This includes waste from the cleaning of equipment between batches of product, which may contain some food, but would mostly consist of water and materials, such as soil and bedding brought in with produce and livestock.

In addition, efforts by manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste arisings and amount of surplus going to waste, for example under the Courtauld Commitment, have reduced food waste since the previous estimates were made by around 200kt or 10%.

The research for the first time produced an estimate of how much food waste could be defined as avoidable and could have been eaten, with or without further processing. Of the 1.9Mt of food waste produced during its manufacture and sale, around 1.1 million tonnes, or 56%, was avoidable and worth £1.9bn, Wrap said. It estimated that this avoidable waste could be halved by 2025 compared with 2009 levels.

The report breaks down volumes of avoidable food waste in the top five manufacturing sub-sectors, and the proportion of total avoidable manufacturing food waste for that sub-sector:

  • Dairy products – 200kt (23%)
  • Meat, poultry and fish – 160kt (18%)
  • Ambient products – 130kt (15%)
  • Fresh fruit & vegetable processing – 100kt (11%)
  • Bakery, cake and cereals – 90kt (10%)

The food and drink sector has voluntary targets under Wrap’s Courtauld Commitment to reduce food waste by 20% per capital across the food system, and takes into account potential population and production growth. The research shows that the contribution from retail and manufacturing is ‘stretching but realistic,’ Wrap said.

Chief executive of food redistribution charity FareShare Lindsay Boswell said that only about 10,000 tonnes of surplus food is currently redistributed to charities each year, meaning that there was huge potential to do more. FareShare could advise businesses on the types of surplus food they can redistribute if they are unsure, she added.

‘We look forward to working with Wrap, Defra and others to build on and refine estimates of edible surplus, and to reduce barriers to the redistribution of food to frontline charities, with the aim of ensuring that no good food goes to waste,’ she said.


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