Another CO2 crisis was narrowly averted at the start of the year, as the government secured a deal to ensure UK businesses will have access to a sustainable supply of CO2. The UK beer and meat industries can breathe a sigh of relief.
But the fears over a repeat of the 2018 crisis highlighted wider problems in the supply chain. Before the deal was secured, supermarket bosses weighed into the CO2 row, warning of potential food and drink shortages as a result – and, at the same time, an increase in food waste.
Fortunately, a solution was found. However, the government has stated it would like to see the market take measures to improve resilience in the longer term, and they’re engaging in ways to tackle this.
In the first instance, one crucial element of the supply chain has so far been overlooked, particularly with carbonated drinks. There is plentiful supply of surplus fizzy drinks that have been rejected by supermarkets as ‘problem stock’ but are perfectly good to use.
This could be because the products are close to their best before date, are in an unpopular flavour, have had a change in packaging, or are part of a cancelled order. In any of these scenarios, the drinks themselves are perfectly safe to consume. A best before date is worlds apart from ‘use by’, which generally appears on fresh produce and gives an indication of food safety.
‘Best before’ is precisely that – a quality guarantee up to the date given. That’s not to say anything past that date is inferior, as tinned, dried and bottled goods are designed to be perfectly good for months, even years after that date.
It’s incomprehensible that as we bemoan potential shortages and rising costs, we are happy to go through our cupboards and consign edible and drinkable goods to the bin because we don’t understand what the labels mean.
As the brand ambassadors for Approved Food, Andy Needham and I have campaigned for many years to better understand best before dates to help prevent precious resources from being wasted.
When we throw a tin of beans or packet of noodles into the bin because they have ’gone out of date’, we are not merely wasting the food itself but the water, energy – and CO2 emissions – that went into its production, not forgetting all of the packaging and transport resources involved too.
Wasting food also wastes water. A staggering 52.8 million gallons of water are needed every second to produce enough food to sustain the world’s population. To put this into context, a small bottle of fizzy drink requires 46 gallons of water to produce.
According to Wrap, more than seven million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK every year, which is a key contributor to climate change. It’s shameful that we are content to waste so much of our planet’s resources without good reason, then resort to panic-buying when supplies run short.
It’s simplistic to point the finger at one cause. Brexit and the pandemic have doubtless both contributed, but we can do little to change this as individuals. It would be wiser to take stock of the resources we needlessly waste every day before scratching our heads and wondering why we find ourselves potentially facing shortages of crucial everyday items like CO2.