Think.Eat.Save: a global challenge, and a shared responsibility

Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO, WRAP

Liz Goodwin blogs from Geneva

I’ve always felt very strongly that we all have a responsibility when it comes to caring for our planet and its resources: to waste what we have seems pointless, irresponsible and short-term.

When it comes to food waste, there is no doubt we are now waking up to the risks. I see WRAP’s role in the just-launched UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Think.Eat.Save campaign as a great chance for us to take this work even further, on a global scale.

I was very pleased to be invited to Geneva take part in the campaign launch today, and it has been obvious to all that there is great energy and commitment by all the players, combined with a practical determination to make progress.

Yes, this campaign, with global food waste and resource use in its sights, has big ambitions, but what is wrong with that? Working with partners including WRAP, this initiative will tackle head-on the issue of how we think and behave towards food, food scarcity, food security, food production, food consumption.

What do we know about the scale of the problem? The answer is, quite a lot. WRAP carried out ground-breaking studies into the scale of the issue in the UK with our ‘The Food We Buy and Waste’ report and there is also strong data in relation to worldwide trends.

Worldwide, it’s estimated we’re wasting around a third of all the food we produce every year. This is the equivalent of $1 trillion-worth of food, and at a time when we’re told that more than 870 million people across the world don’t have enough food to eat.  This cannot be right.

The global population of seven billion is forecast to grow to nine million by 2050. The BBC4 documentary Surviving Progress made the point that the increase in world population which happened between the fall of the Roman Empire and the discovery of America (around 1,000 years) now happens every few years. 

So unless we do something now, the problem of food security can only get worse.

The evidence shows there are things we can all do – governments, companies, organisations and individuals – to change the way we treat food throughout the food production and consumption process which will bring environmental and social benefit, and at the same time, benefit the economy. 

We know there are ways to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, whether it’s at the growing and harvesting stage; manufacture and retailing, or the consumer purchase and consumption stage.

The prize at stake is great.

Our leading-edge research tells us that here in the UK, there is the opportunity to reduce the 15 million tonnes of food waste we currently create each year. Almost half of this waste is created in the home, and over a quarter during the manufacture and retail of food. We know, too, from our research that much of this wastage could be avoided, and much could be made available for human consumption.

In November 2011, we were able to report that between 2006/07, when we produced our first benchmark research into food waste, and 2010, the amount consumers were throwing away had fallen from 8.3 million tonnes to 7.2 million tonnes …. worth £2.5 billion  – so significant change is possible. But there’s still plenty to go for - in the UK, as householders, we are still throwing away around £12bn-worth of food a year.

Retailers know from their own research that customers want to see evidence that they are helping them waste less. I believe that is why so many brands and retailers responded positively to the WRAP initiative to include a food waste reduction target in the Courtauld Commitment, and why there has been so much support for our Hospitality and Food Service voluntary agreement.

I know that some have argued that one way to tackle food waste is to force retailers to increase prices. Staring at a world in which food poverty is still a major issue, I’m afraid I just don’t buy that argument, and I know I’m not alone.

Change cannot and will not happen overnight and in the UK, our experience certainly tells us that we will all need patience and a continued willingness to work together as we move towards our goal.

Sharing a platform with UNEP and FAO is a great privilege. But it is undoubtedly also a great responsibility … and one that I’m determined WRAP does justice to, helping to make a real difference.

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