Our Waste Not Want Not campaign has achieved victories big and small. But this week’s news that 24 leading suppliers are set to publish their own food waste figures (and halve waste levels by 2030) might just top the lot. It’s been clear for some time supermarkets have been more engaged on the issue, prompted by a greater awareness of food waste among consumers, amid greater scrutiny by campaigners, lobby groups and the media. But food manufacturers have been loath to talk or act, preferring to lurk in the shadows. While there have been some notable exceptions, as we’ve seen in trying to secure support for our campaign, the response has mostly been either to treat it as someone else’s problem, or to ignore it (and us) altogether. Indeed, as Wrap discovered when it was investigating industry food waste levels, on some occasions manufacturers have literally slammed the doors in their faces.
This response is not only disappointing, it matters hugely, because manufacturers are responsible for 89% of industry food waste, while supermarkets - despite those notorious bins out the back of their stores brimming with out of date food - account for only 11%. I’ll never forget Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s response when I pointed out this statistic in the face of his focus on supermarket food waste. “How can that be?”
The answer is, of course, complex - though one we’ve explained in great detail in the course of our ongoing campaign.
But one thing is clear. You can’t manage what you don’t measure - as the UN’s Champions 12.3 initiative highlighted in a report this week. So this commitment by businesses responsible for £17bn of groceries to measure and share their data will help enormously in understanding the scale of the problem, its causes, and where are the weak spots are. Let’s hope it acts as a tipping point for other suppliers to come out of the shadows.
Every business wastes food, it’s a sad inevitability. Denials are ludicrous, and frankly damaging to reduction efforts. Via this commitment, the likes of Allied Bakeries, 2 Sisters and Müller, admit they waste food too, but they’re prepared to do something about it. And we can’t ask any more than that.