The food and drink industry has been warned it needs to dramatically step up efforts to reduce food waste, after a new report from Wrap showed progress had gone into reverse. The report on the first year of the Courtauld Commitment, which launched in May 2013, showed the amount of waste from manufacturers and retailers had actually increased (by 0.1%), to 2.76 million tonnes, against a target of a 3% reduction by the end of 2015.

Despite nearly 50 companies who were signed up to the deal reporting increases in recycling and recovery and less material going to the sewer or landfill, Wrap said a more joined up effort was needed across the industry or it would fail to hit the target.

The slump in food waste reduction is in stark contrast to efforts to reduce the impact of carbon from packaging, which Wrap revealed was down by 4.5% in the first year of the agreement, well ahead of the 2015 target of a zero increase. Wrap said that despite the slowdown on overall waste, there had been a big increase in the volumes of unsold food redistributed for human consumption, almost doubling from 21kt to 38kt.

“I am delighted that progress on the packaging target has exceeded expectations and redistribution has increased significantly,” said Dr Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at WRAP. “There is still much to do before the end of this third phase though, with the biggest challenge being the manufacturing and retail target. We will be working closely with signatories to help ensure all the targets are met.”

In a separate report, also published today, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA), claimed that the amount of food being redistributed was “pitiful” compared to that being wasted.

“The work of charities and supermarkets to redistribute surplus food via food banks is commendable but the amount redistributed is pitifully small compared to the amount of good food that currently goes to waste,” said committee chair Anne McIntosh MP.

Whilst the report accepted there was “no magic bullet” for tackling the levels of food waste in the UK, and praised the work of retailers in assisting charities with the redistribution of surplus food, it called on Defra to lead a much more co-ordinated approach.

Last week BRC figures revealed that the leading supermarkets in the UK wasted 200,000 tonnes of food in 2013, although it said that this was a fraction of the 15 million tonnes thrown away in the UK each year, with household waste by far the biggest cause.