Food waste

Brexit and Covid have combined to contribute towards a 100,000-tonne increase in food waste from producers and manufacturers in the UK, according to a new report by Wrap.

The UK’s exit from the EU is cited, along with disruption to the supply chain caused by the impact of the pandemic, as key factors in a spike in waste in 2021.

An update to the industry’s Food Waste Roadmap, which was launched in 2018, shows of the 140 producers and manufacturers who have agreed to share multi-year data, overall edible food waste decreased by 13,900 tonnes, or 1.4%, in 2021, compared with their baselines (ranging from 2015-2020).

Together the businesses reported more than 1.2 million tonnes of food waste, of which almost 80% was edible.

However, the total amount of food wasted, edible and inedible, had risen by 100,000 tonnes, while 57% of suppliers had seen their food waste levels increase compared with their baselines, with the “vast majority” reporting a spike in 2020 and 2021.

It says the increase was “likely at least in part to be explained by the disruption and subsequent recovery related to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

But it adds “The impact of exiting the European Union has affected some businesses’ levels of food waste.

“Several large businesses reported that in 2021 it was more cost-effective to send their food to a waste destination in the UK than to send it to an EU country for use in animal feed.”

Wrap director of collaboration and change Catherine David said: “The convergence of Covid and Brexit has obviously had an impact.” The industry had been hit by a wave of economic challenges, which had posed barriers to its efforts on food waste, she added.

The findings come after The Grocer revealed in December that Wrap and IGD were looking to re-draw the roadmap to take into account the “huge economic challenges” facing food and drink companies.

While they intend to stick with the goal of halving food waste by 2030 against a 2007 baseline, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, some of the ambitions in the speed of change are set to be reduced due to the impact of Brexit, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

The roadmap originally aimed to have 100% of the UK´s large food businesses implementing its ’Target, Measure, Act’ principles by 2026, but that target now looks set to be axed. Today’s report shows only 221 large businesses are implementing the transparency, of an estimated 600 large food companies.

There was better news for retailers, whose food waste figures were down by more than 19,000 tonnes in 2021 compared with 2018, which Wrap said equated to almost £62m of food not going to waste.

Meanwhile, levels of food surplus redistributed by the 15 retailers signed up to the roadmap shot up by more than 100%, as supermarkets stepped up their efforts to help with the impact of the pandemic and food poverty.

This resulted in an additional 26,000 tonnes of food being redistributed, worth £80m.

Wrap said the roadmap goals had become a “matter of food security and sustainable business”.

The number of businesses signed up to the roadmap has increased from just over 70 at launch to 300, with more than 30 joining since September 2021. Campaign groups and sustainability experts have expressed concerns over the large number of smaller manufacturers who are not providing food waste data.