Why there’s no time to ‘waste’ in the fight against food waste

The government’s Resources and Waste Strategy could soon go past its sell-by-date unless firm action is taken, writes Philip Simpson, commercial director of ReFood.

While it was good to see the Government recognising the major role that green technology could play in diverting waste away from landfill, the plan still seems very woolly.

The next few months will be crucial in confirming Defra’s genuine commitment to the laudable aims of the new strategy. Without firm legislative muscle behind the strategy, Gove could be accused of ‘mere prattle without practice’, to quote the bard. We have the roadmap; we now need some petrol in the tank to make real progress!

Let’s take Ireland as an example of positive forward motion on waste reduction. Richard Bruton, minister for the environment, recently announced plans to cut Irish food waste by 50%, adding that a huge improvement was needed to reduce food waste if Ireland was to meet its 2030 target to halve the €700 annual cost to households.

Bruton has acted decisively, reviewing the data on current efforts to cut waste at different points in the food chain and his department plans to increase recycling by encouraging more homes and businesses to use brown bins. Ireland also aims to raise public awareness of food recycling and is looking at the role of schools as an important channel to promote improved practices.

This is exactly the type of thinking we need to see from Defra as it puts meat onto the bones of the new waste strategy.

Sadly, England has fallen behind the rest of the UK when it comes to ending the senseless practice of sending food waste to landfill. While Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and now Ireland have taken firm action to combat food waste to landfill, here in England, we are still talking strategies and consultation papers.

It is vital that we learn from the best practice established by other countries and provide a clear, definitive plan for the UK that is underpinned by legislation that should not be open to interpretation.

An outright ban on food waste to landfill would represent a monumental moment in the UK’s journey towards waste efficiency. Described in detail as part of ReFood’s our Vision 2020 roadmap, a sophisticated proposal already exists that explores the challenges facing the various interwoven supply chains involved in food waste.

Clearly, we need non-negotiable legislation to effect fundamental changes in the way we deal with food waste in England. Mandated brown bins for food waste collection (as seen in Ireland) would be a good first step. However, we need to agreed a clear plan, with all of the relevant stakeholders within the logistics chain actively engaged. This incudes schools, restaurants, hospitals, supermarkets and households. It also needs to engage local authorities, waste collection agencies and energy generation businesses.

At present, only a handful of councils in England offer any sort of food waste reduction support to households. This is frankly a national disgrace that needs addressing as a matter of urgency. In its Resources and Waste Strategy, Defra is talking about bringing in legislation by 2023. That’s at least four years away, which is so far into the future, it smacks of kicking the can down the road. Landfill is reaching capacity now – and so we need to act as a matter of urgency.

Food waste – and how we deal with it – is now an issue of national importance.  Our neighbours have shown that decisive action and leadership can have a major positive impact on the amount of food waste that is needlessly tipped into landfill. It’s time to take action.


Philip Simpson
Commercial director, ReFood UK


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