I’ve noticed that the debate around food waste continues to have a head of steam in both the traditional media and on social networks – I don’t think anyone should expect this issue is going to go away.
This is the right time, I think, to reflect on how far we’ve come in the UK over the last decade or so and more importantly how we can move things forward. WRAP launched Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) in 2007 because we had research findings showing the extent of the problem, that most of the waste was in the home that consumers wanted to do something about it and asked for practical advice on what they could do. We knew from that research that in the UK we were throwing way more than eight million tonnes of food and drink every year in our homes.
It’s a figure we see everywhere now, but at the time, I think it was a real eye-opener for us all. I know that it made me stop and think about the way I used the food I bought. I wasn’t alone in thinking that. Surely, I didn’t waste my food in the ways the WRAP research suggested? The truth is, none of us likes to think we waste food but if we’re honest we do.
Since its launch, LFHW has helped households across the UK reduce food waste from 8.3m tonnes a year to 7.2m tonnes, with a value of £2.5bn, in my view this is a very good return on investment. The reduction has also helped consumers to save money in these tough economic times. We can quantify this: an average family could save around £50 a month, just by taking a few simple steps, and that’s a saving really worth having.
Pressures on family budgets and rising food prices will of course have played a part in this, but audited work we carried out showed the contribution of Love Food Hate Waste, taken forward with our many partners, was responsible for around 60%.
I‘ve been looking at the experiences of one family who have been finding out these benefits for themselves. Eleanor Mitchiner, a mother of four, took part in a LFHW food challenge that WRAP set up in London with Recycle for London. Her experience offers a great example of how small changes can make a real difference and how anyone can easily do this at home.
We started in the home because that was where the biggest problem lies. But we have always known that food is wasted throughout the supply chain from farm to factory gate and onwards. WRAP has tackled these issues too. We have introduced targets to reduce food waste both in the home and through the supply chain into the Courtauld Commitment, signed up to by almost all the major supermarkets and brands. Those testing targets have been exceeded. See CC2 case studies.
We have also worked with the hospitality and food service sector to help it reduce food waste, launching a separate voluntary agreement last year. Already more than 100 organisations have signed up to this latest initiative across the UK from small bed and breakfast operations to major catering suppliers. Already, we are beginning to implement changes which will reduce food and associated packaging waste.
So, what of the future?
WRAP is carrying out work through the Product Sustainability Forum to identify the “hot spots” in a supply chain where key resources – including food – are used inefficiently. This is critical work to shape the future initiatives globally.
And if ever I have any doubt about the way that thinking in the UK is setting the agenda, I only have to flick through the many invitations I and WRAP’s experts in this area get to speak and debate these issues internationally.
Much of this is about incremental change, and with incremental change it is sometimes tough to see the progress. But take a step back and view the whole landscape and you begin to see just have far, together, we’ve come. The size of the prize in terms of financial and economic benefits, including global food security, persuades me that with so much still to do we must keep this in our sights as a key priority issue.