On TV you’ll see Hugh’s War on Waste. Flip over a bag of salad and you’ll see Love Food Hate Waste. Pick up The Grocer to read about Waste Not Want Not. Join the IGD in Working on Waste. The call to confront food waste is everywhere. And rightly so - it’s a big opportunity and its time is now.
Many industry colleagues reading this are signatories of Courtauld 2025, wherein we’ve committed to work towards reducing the environmental impact of our food and drink throughout the value chain.
A lot is already being done, especially within our industry. For example, redistribution through charities like FareShare, food banks such as Trussell Trust and selling ‘wonky’ veg. The restaurant and catering industries are also doing their part.
Yet despite these initiatives and campaigns, when you look at the life cycle of food, there remain a number of big opportunities.
Arguably the Holy Grail of problems to fix is people’s attitudes to, and awareness of, how to make the most of their food. From overbuying to poor storage, to a lack of confidence about use-by dates or often an absence of culinary inspiration, the ugly truth is that staggering amounts of edible food is being binned each week. What’s more, much of it is still heading to incineration or landfill. There is of course a proportion of food waste that may be unavoidable - teabags, coffee grounds, vegetable peelings - so the key challenge is ensuring this is composted or put in the food waste bin.
According to figures from Wrap, 10 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK, with seven million tonnes of this coming from households. This is perhaps a bit less surprising when you consider that only 55% of households in England have access to some form of food waste collection. If we want sustainable change, shouldn’t a food waste collection be mandatory for all UK households? Food waste collection also has a key role to play in unlocking higher domestic recycling rates overall.
Would you be surprised if I told you that 4.2 million tonnes of the 10 million mentioned above could be avoided? The food waste initiatives already in place are starting to make a splash, but we urgently need to place greater value on, and making the very most of, our food.
Yet there is the potential to unlock a triple win: better for our consumers, better for communities and the environment and better for our industry. We need a collaborative approach that leverages all of our initiatives and spans government, business, local authorities and charities.
To positively disrupt ingrained habits we need simple, clear and consistent communication that will help grow fresh attitudes to valuing food. Food that tastes good, does good and doesn’t cost the earth. We need to work to make this message ubiquitous at every vital touch point.
It’s time to embrace the ambition for a zero food waste Britain and build a new culture of collective and individual responsibility. It’s time to say no to food waste, no to food poverty and a big yes to making the best of our precious food for the greater good. Who’s with me?
Gina Boswell is general manager for Unilever UK & Ireland