Colin Robertson MIEMA CEnv discusses the clear link between food waste and climate and how Bettys & Taylors are monitoring and tracking waste, improving forecasting systems, and working with WRAP’s Guardians of Grub campaign to help engage and educate their catering teams to monitor food waste and learn new techniques to prevent it.

The climate crisis will be a major focus for environmental professionals over the course of this year which culminates in COP26. With the summit due to be hosted in the UK it provides a good opportunity for our profession to highlight climate action and influence the many different stakeholders we work with.

Instigating effective action on the climate crisis is a relentless task. Those working in our profession understand that there are complex impacts of, and contributors to, climate change. Finding solutions, and persuading others to engage in them against the backdrop of such complexity, can be a real challenge.

On one hand climate awareness has never been greater. More people than ever before get the urgency to act and understand the major contributors to the problem – the continued use of fossil fuels. Increasingly they can join the dots between fossil fuel use in our everyday lives, such as travel and energy use in our homes, and the climate crisis. When they feel motivated to act, they know what they need to do. Cut out those car journeys, flights, or home energy use – even if doing so is difficult or inconvenient.

On the other hand, there are some major opportunities for climate action that remain misunderstood.

Take the example of food waste.

To mark ‘Food Waste Action Week’ in March 2021, WRAP released a report which included results from a survey of 4,000 UK adults that found that just under a third of respondents saw a clear link between food waste and climate.1

However, the link between food and climate is strong. As a basic human need, food production accounts for a substantial share of global greenhouse gas emissions - around 26%. A quarter of these emissions are attributable to food which is lost in supply chains or wasted by consumers. As a result, food waste accounts for 6% of global emissions, more than aviation. If you put food waste in the context of national emissions it would be the world’s third largest emitter behind the United States and China. 2

There is however a platform to build on. Greater public understanding of how dietary choices influence climate has contributed to many brands developing and promoting ‘planet-friendly’ product ranges from plant-based burgers to carbon positive beer.

Acting on food waste is also crucial for businesses operating in the hospitality and food and drink sectors. Waste is not just an environmental concern. Efficiency improvements will cut financial costs and be ever more important to a sector recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.

In Bettys & Taylors investments in monitoring and tracking waste, improving forecasting systems, and working with WRAP’s Guardians of Grub campaign to help engage and educate our catering teams to monitor food waste and learn new techniques to prevent waste are starting to pay dividends. In addition, like many others in the sector, we have established links with charities to better handle unplanned situations such as the temporary closures of our cafés required by lockdown restrictions. This meant we could prevent products and ingredients that we couldn’t use from becoming waste. Instead they could benefit many charities and the people they serve.

However, food waste is not simply an issue for professionals working in the food, drink and hospitality sectors. Just as bedrooms have become makeshift offices, kitchens have become the new staff canteens. This could open new opportunities for conversations with employees about how they can reduce food waste at home and explain how this results in them acting on a significant climate impact.

This isn’t a trivial matter. In the UK household food waste represents 70% of the total generated. WRAP identified positive trends in home behaviour towards reducing waste during lockdown including batch cooking, freezing, and using leftovers, but these trends could easily be reversed as we head back to busy normal lives outside of our homes. This could therefore be the ideal year in which to engage employees on an important climate action they might never have previously considered – cutting food waste.

And hopefully by 2022 our plates will be much lighter.

  1. Food Waste Action Week | WRAP
  2. Food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions - Our World in Data

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

Photo of Colin Bettys Taylors
Colin Robertson

Colin, MIEMA, CEnv, is an experienced environmentalist and Group Energy & Environmental Manager at family owned Yorkshire business Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate. As both an in-house professional and external advisor his career has spanned multiple sectors including built environment, food, drink and hospitality, and construction.