Great strides from Courtauld signatories on food waste prevention

Dr Peter Maddox, Director, WRAP UK

This blog is about success and I'm proud to highlight it. This week WRAP has published a report outlining the excellent progress that has been made against the Courtauld 2025 agreement’s food waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets. These are helping the UK meet its food waste target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3. Between 2015 and 2018, annual food and drink waste reduced by 480,000 tonnes a year and the associated GHG emissions by 7.5 million tonnes a year (CO2e). Both of these represent a 7% reduction per capita, putting us on track to meet the agreement’s overall target of a 20% cut in waste and in GHG emissions by 2025. 

It has not always been smooth progress in the decade since we launched our pioneering work on food waste prevention in the UK and this is no time for complacency.

When I became responsible for this area two years ago, we were facing a stagnating programme on household food waste rates which between 2012 and 2015 had been at a standstill. In WRAP, we responded by refreshing our strategy, by focusing on what works, and by simply cranking up our effort.

While the rates flatlined, the commitment from our government and business partners did not. Recognising that food production worldwide generates around 30% of global GHG emissions, and agriculture uses 70% of global freshwater resources, our partners understood that food waste cannot be ignored.

And when nearly a billion people across the world go hungry every day, it is morally indefensible to keep wasting millions of tonnes of food each year. Today is the reward for their commitment.     

There are three distinct ways in which Courtauld 2025 signatories have played their part to tackle food waste.

Firstly, action by signatories has led the way on reducing supply chain waste by 4% over the period from 2015 to 2018. Since early 2017, this has been accelerated by our work with IGD and others across the sector, leading to the ground-breaking Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, which has encouraged suppliers to ‘Target-Measure-Act’. Last September, we were able to report that over 150 businesses had signed up to the roadmap and a significant number of these were already setting food waste reduction targets, and implementing the principles for food waste measurement, to inform and drive action internally.

Secondly, in 2018, the amount of surplus food redistributed had doubled compared to 2015, with an additional £81 million of food surplus being provided, equivalent to an amazing extra 65 million meals a year. As part of this, WRAP helped build capacity in the redistribution sector through distributing a £500,000 Food Waste Reduction Fund from Defra to eight charities and not-for-profit groups around the country, helping them to secure the resources and equipment they need to expand their operations.

And finally, food waste in the home. We know this comprises the majority of food waste and it has been a real challenge for the sector. It was my biggest concern, which is why I am particularly pleased that this has reduced by over 7% since 2015. Our focus has been on targeting the right kind of behaviour changes so that people buy what they need and make use of what they buy. We have also focused on the main food types that people waste.

The Love Food Hate Waste campaign ‘moments’ such as ‘Make Toast Not Waste’, ‘Give a Cluck’ and ‘Chill the Fridge Out’ have played their part in raising awareness with citizens. Businesses have played an important role in supporting and amplifying these campaigns with their customers.

There has been a real re-think about the role of packaging. Leading businesses are ensuring there is clear guidance on when to use date labels, providing clear freezing guidance, and innovating on pack size and functionality to help customers to buy and use the right amounts of food.

I believe that we, together, have put in place a good foundation to keep reducing food waste in the UK.

However, we have just ten years to meet our international commitment to reach the UN SDG goal (in target 12.3) to halve food waste. 1.8 million tonnes of food waste will need to be prevented by 2030 compared to 2018. Today’s progress shows we are moving in the right direction, and are on track, but we need to accelerate the pace. That’s why I am encouraging the team at WRAP to keep trying new ideas and pushing hard.

One area that I am particularly excited about is our latest work on Behaviour Change Interventions. Here we are developing a suite of experimental interventions targeting the most wasted products, the segments of the population who waste the most food, and the behaviours that leverage the most change.

It combines WRAP’s extensive knowledge of food waste and the power of behavioural science, and critically we are working closely with Courtauld 2025 signatories to co-create and scale up these interventions. They include some intriguing ideas for the meat and dairy sectors, and I particularly like one concept for online shopping, addressing how the design of the customer journey can help them make choices that reduce food waste.

Of course, governments continue to have a vital role to play. I am looking forward to seeing the forthcoming consultation from Defra and the other Nation governments across the UK on mandatory food waste reporting by relevant businesses. In our work under Target-Measure-Act, we’ve seen just how vital it is that businesses know how much food waste they are producing, and report regularly on their progress in cutting it. As they say, ‘what gets measured, gets managed’.

As you can imagine, I am hugely proud to work with many brilliant and passionate colleagues in WRAP. I’d also like to give a big thanks to Courtauld 2025 signatories, who have made great strides over the three years to get us back on track towards meeting the targets we’ve all agreed. Collectively, we have made a real difference. And that’s good for citizens, good for the businesses concerned, and ultimately good for our planet.