According to research published in May, the annual volume of food waste thrown out at the House of Commons has nearly doubled over the past three years.
Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, discusses why this should be seen as yet another disappointing symbol for the government’s continued failure to tackle our national food waste crisis.
When it comes to waste, we’re led to believe that the UK is a global trailblazer.
Strict landfill diversion targets, significant investment into recycling technologies and forward-thinking initiatives surrounding material reuse give the impression that the government has a clear and definitive direction.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you uncover the disappointing truth. While Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all lead the charge with world-leading sustainability practices, England’s dated and inflexible waste management legislation means Britain lags far down the global league tables for recycling – 18th of 24 developed nations, to be precise.
Food waste has always been a central part of the issue. Despite widespread commitment from industry on food waste reduction, including recycling and redistribution initiatives (mainly by grocery stores, hospitality businesses and food manufacturing sites), as homeowners, we still landfill the vast majority of our food waste. While many forward-thinking nations have mandated the separate collection and recycling of food waste for a number of years now, district councils across England are still given the choice whether or not to provide food waste collections.
According to the latest insight from WRAP, only 59% of local authorities in the UK offer food waste collection schemes (either a separate collection or mixed with garden waste).
This is a continued roadblock we’ve been campaigning against since the launch of our Vision:2020 campaign back in 2013. Throwing away food is a travesty. Alongside the obvious sustainability benefits, recycling food waste also provides numerous economic benefits.
In fact, if we were to realise zero food waste to landfill, in 2020 we could generate over 1.1tW of energy, 27 million fewer tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, return over 1.3 million tonnes of nutrient-rich fertiliser to farmland and save the public sector over £3.7 billion – all while reducing our national reliance on landfill. The opportunity is considerable.
I can’t say I’m surprised by the House of Commons’ escalating food waste figures. Regardless of the benefits, food waste still seems to be at the bottom of parliament’s priority list. While 283 tonnes every year may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the UK’s total 14.8 million tonnes of landfilled food, leading by example would speak volumes.
We can’t continue like this forever. With landfill space quickly depleting, a clear and future-proof strategy is essential. While changing legislation won’t happen overnight, landfill diversion has to rise up the government’s priority list – and fast.
Phillip Simpson, commercial director, ReFood