MPs urge mandatory food waste target

28th April 2017

Targets for reducing food waste should be introduced in England to focus efforts to deal with a problem that is generating rotesque economic, social and environmental costs', MPs have concluded.

The parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee issued a report of its inquiry into food waste at the weekend. It highlights research by waste advisor Wrap, which has estimated that each year 10 million tonnes of waste arise after food and drink has been produced, 60% of which could be avoided.

The inquiry covered the causes and possible solutions to food waste arising from consumers, the retail and hospitality sectors and local government.

The committee’s report notes that the Courtauld Commitment, the industry initiative to reduce food and drink waste in the UK by 20% by 202 compared with 2007 baseline is voluntary. It acknowledges that voluntary action taken by food producers and retailers has cut food waste by 1.6 million tonnes a year compared with 2007.

However, the report quotes Wrap research suggesting that food waste may increase again by 1.1 million tonnes by 2025.

Some witnesses to the inquiry called for regulation to cut food waste in England, saying the government should follow the example of Scotland, which is planning to introduce a mandatory target to cut food waste by a third by 2025 compared with 2007.

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey told the committee that mandatory approaches would be ‘like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.

‘I do not think we are at the stage at which we need to be considering mandatory approaches. There are certain rules already in place about separate collections and so on. To go to one extreme, where a household is required to have seven or eight bins, is in my view not appropriate,’ she said.

However, the fact that the commitment was voluntary was a weakness, MPs said. Many companies, particularly manufacturers, were not signatories to the agreement.

One of the witnesses, food campaigner Tristram Stuart from Feedback, said this was because, unlike retailers, manufacturers do not tend to have a public-facing brand, making it harder to bring pressure on them.

Manufacturers were not covered by the scope of the inquiry. However, the MPs’ report recommended that the government and Wrap work harder to engage manufacturers and sign them up to the commitment.

MPs also called on the government to force major supermarkets to publish data on their food waste. Tesco already does this, it noted, and Sainsbury’s has started to work on its transparency over the issue.

But the fact that no other retailers have followed their lead shows that a voluntary approach is inadequate, the report states.

Committee chair Neil Parish concluded: ‘The best thing we can do is to prevent raw materials, ingredients and products from becoming waste in the first place. If surplus cannot be prevented, then redistribution to people in need or as animal feed is the next best option.

‘Once it is thrown away the best way of dealing with food waste is to recycle it by sending it to anaerobic digestion or composting. The worst way to deal with it is to send it for disposal through waste incineration without energy recovery or to send it to landfill.’

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Retailers must work with Wrap to agree a consistent method of reporting, to enable comparisons to be drawn.
  • The incoming government should continue the review with Wrap and the Food Standards Agency of food date labelling, with the aim of issuing guidance to the industry by the end of 2017. The review should specifically look at whether there is a need to continue using ‘best before’ dates on packaging.
  • Retailers should relax their quality standards and sell ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables that is rejected for purely aesthetic reasons.
  • Councils should continue to be responsible for addressing the specific challenges and barriers to increasing food waste collections at a local level. However, guidance and best practice should be shared at a national level to help establish a standardised approach and to assist local authorities to improve their individual performance.
  • The government must ensure that Wrap has adequate resources. The report states that central government funding for the advisory body has fallen from £25.8m in 2013/14, to £14.8m in 2015/16. Money from devolved administrations and EU grants had also declined, MPs noted.
  • The hospitality sector should examine ways of preventing food waste from customers’ plates. For example, by offering smaller portions; providing clarity on the sides that arrive with a meal; reducing the amount of sides; and encouraging a take-home service for leftovers.


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