As we mark ’12.3 Day’: my pledge to eliminate food waste in WRAP’s workplaces

Marcus Gover

Most employees will eat at least one meal at work during their day. Despite our best intentions, eating ‘on the go’ can be challenging and many will recognise the temptation to fall into bad habits in the food we buy, and generating food waste.

As experts in food sustainability, we’re probably more tuned into our habits than a lot of other people at WRAP, but that didn’t mean that the odd piece of fruit which had been lurking at the back of a locker, or half-eaten sandwich wasn’t finding itself in the food bin.

Which is why last year I set my colleagues a challenge: to reach zero edible food waste (so not the apple cores, banana skins and so on which are the leftovers of our lunch boxes) at our WRAP offices. So nothing to be thrown away which could otherwise have been eaten.  Ever again.

This is much further than the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030. But I felt that as WRAP is a leading force in the fight against food waste, then we really have to walk the walk. 

And I’m delighted to report today, on ’12.3 Day’, that within the space of one year, we are already 99% of the way there. That’s great progress and a testament to the power of targeted behaviour change. And I know we will get to that zero target very soon.

So how did we do it?

We are living examples that the simple Target, Measure, Act approach that is at the heart of our food waste reduction programmes really works. 

Having set the ambitious target of zero avoidable food waste, the next important part was regularly measuring and monitoring the food we throw away. It seems obvious, but it’s the only way you can monitor progress and maintain motivated. Without that, the targets would be meaningless. So that is what we do – we visually check what’s in our food waste every day to see how we’re doing. And every quarter we audit and report our food waste.

But perhaps the most important was the next step - a set of clear and consistent actions. 

This started with awareness raising amongst colleagues through our usual communications channels, and more informally – such as hosting zero food waste BBQs and ‘leftover lunches’.

We’ve also been able to tap into the great communications campaigns which our colleagues at Love Food Hate Waste put together. They provide lots of great hints and tips about how we can cut back on food waste. 

This includes, for example, the recent successful ‘Chill the Fridge Out’ campaign which encourages us all to keep our fridge below 5 degrees centigrade so that the food inside can last three days longer. And the latest ‘Compleating’ initiative which is inspiring the UK to eat the whole ingredient or food so no edible parts go to waste. This means getting the best value from the food we buy, making the most of our food’s nutrients and saving the hassle of peeling, as well as unlocking all that flavour potential. 

We also implemented lots of simple, effective actions into our day-to-day operations.

We routinely check the temperature in our fridges to make sure they are below the recommended 5 degrees. Colleagues are requested to initial and date food so we know who owns what. We also regularly check our fridges for items which are creeping towards their use by dates, or past their best before dates, and have a gentle word with colleagues to remind them to use them up. All colleagues label their food so we know who belongs to what. We also have a sharing shelf in the fridge for colleagues to help themselves to spare food.

Buffet food is a common provision in office meetings and we know through our work that buffets can be a major source of food waste. So we have been mindful to only order food we actually need when providing hospitality – and ensuring that any surplus at all is shared amongst colleagues in our staff kitchen. This has proven really successful and we have had no leftover sandwiches or salads from our buffet lunches.

I’m really proud of our efforts, but there’s no resting on our laurels. We will continue to monitor to get that to that zero target. And stay there. So the challenge now is to shift from a ‘policing’ approach, to embedding our culture as the social norm. I am determined we will make this happen. The good news is that it has not been onerous, expensive or time-consuming. 

For those who also want to make this switch, there are some great tools out there. For a really comprehensive guide on tackling food waste, our colleagues at TRiFOCAL have come up with a really instructive guide – ‘Engaging your employees in Small Change Big Difference’. The Guide provides tools, templates and messages so that businesses can design a bespoke campaign that is right for their organisation. 

And over at the World Resources Institute, employers are this week being asked to commit to the ‘Office Food Waste Challenge’ and pledge to set a target, measure and take action.

 We know through our work with our Courtauld partners, and the work we are doing with our global partners, that this Target, Measure, Act method really works. It is making a difference to manufacturers, hotels, caterers, restaurants – companies big and small. 

But we know we need to do more. And particularly in our homes, where we face the biggest challenge. We need to shift from a throwaway culture, to one which values food and finds wasting it intolerable. Which is why having that consistency right across our daily lives is important.

It’s an enormous challenge, but one we have to tackle together. We have made great progress, but time is running out if we are to meet the SDG 12.3 2030 deadline. And reaching that goal is essential. Tackling food waste really matters – environmentally in the fight against climate change, economically as we waste one third of the food produced every year, costing billions, and socially, as it is unacceptable that we throw away food when millions are going hungry. 

I am amazed at how quickly we made progress, and how readily colleagues have embraced the challenge. It’s one small step, but if all businesses made the same commitment, we can make a giant step towards our global ambition to turn the tide on food waste.