National targets and standardised approach needed to tackle food waste

England should follow Scotland’s lead by introducing a target to reduce food waste, according to MPs.

A report by the environment, food and rural affairs committee also called on the government to launch a national strategy to ‘ensure a consistent collection of waste and recycling across the UK’.

The government should work with WRAP and local authorities to ensure separate food waste collections are offered to as many households as possible and to ‘move towards a standardised approach’.

MPs warned England is falling behind other parts of the UK.

Scotland is introducing a mandatory target to cut food waste by a third by 2025 and councils are required to provide separate food waste collections in non-rural areas.

In Wales, 99% of households were provided with separate food waste collection services in 2015 and there are mandatory local authority targets for recycling, re-using and composting household waste.

In its evidence to the committee’s inquiry, WRAP said in Wales ‘pretty much every single household can recycle food and they probably recycle twice as much food as England’.

Stop rejecting ‘knobbly carrots’

The report said supermarkets should publicly report data on food waste and called for a government review to look at whether there is a need for ‘best before’ dates.

Committee chair Neil Parish called on supermarkets to stop rejecting fruit and vegetables ‘simply because they’re a funny shape’.

‘Farmers supplying fruits and vegetables to UK supermarkets currently get their produce rejected on the grounds that it fails to meet cosmetic quality standards set by the big retailers,’ he said.

‘Knobbly carrots and parsnips don’t cook or taste any different. It’s high time we saved them from the supermarket reject bins!’

Other recommendations include:

  • Improved packaging in supermarkets, such as increasing the use of split and re-sealable packets to help consumers reduce food waste
  • Mandatory food waste collections for businesses
  • Forcing food businesses and retailers over a particular size to separate food waste
  • Sufficient funding for WRAP to ensure it can maintain food waste reduction programmes

‘Grotesque’ costs

Mr Parish said: ‘One-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally and in the UK over £10bn worth of food is thrown away by households every year.

‘Food waste has grotesque economic, social and environmental costs. Economically, food waste costs households hundreds of pounds a year and causes increased disposal costs to local authorities, pushing up council tax bills.

‘Socially it is a scandal that people are going hungry and using food banks when so much produce is being wasted. And environmentally it is a disaster, because energy and resources are wasted in production only for the food to end up rotting in landfills where it produces methane – a potent climate-changing gas.

‘We commend Tesco for publishing its food waste data from across the supply chain. Sainsbury’s is moving in the same direction, but needs more transparency. The fact that no other retailers have followed their lead shows that a voluntary approach is inadequate.

‘The government needs to step in and force other major supermarkets to be transparent about food waste. We welcome the will shown by retailers to redistribute surplus food. However, we believe that more must be done. There is a huge amount of surplus food that is currently not being redistributed.’

He added: ‘The best thing we can do is to prevent raw materials, ingredients and products from becoming waste in the first place. If surplus cannot be prevented, then redistribution to people in need or as animal feed is the next best option.

‘Once it is thrown away the best way of dealing with food waste is to recycle it by sending it to anaerobic digestion or composting. The worst way to deal with it is to send it for disposal through waste incineration without energy recovery or to send it to landfill.’

Photo by Nick Saltmarsh

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Austin Macauley

Austin Macauley

Editor, Environment Journal

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