The day the earth stood united

Richard Swannell

Within the last six days, two major reports have reminded us that food waste remains one of the most significant global issue facing us all, with far-reaching and devastating effects on our shared environment, the economy and on our global population. Remember, a third of all food is wasted worldwide worth nearly a trillion dollars.

The latest, published by the World Bank and prepared in collaboration with Cornell University and WRAP, states that “only a transformation of the global food system will ensure that the world is not worse off in the future.” It follows the World Resources Institute’s description of international progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 being “woefully behind” where it needs to be, although the UK is highlighted as an exemplar in the global fight against food waste.

WRAP has spent over a decade researching, refining and reworking our approach to food waste prevention to a level that has helped take us more than halfway towards the UK reaching SDG target 12.3.

The UK is the first country in the world to do this; I know we won’t be the last – even if it feels this year as though the global community has more pressing issues to contend with.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed major risks in the systems underpinning our everyday lives. Even in affluent nations we’ve seen worrying signs of the fragility of our food system with empty shelves brought about by panic buying in the early days of the pandemic; and the hospitality sector temporarily closing in many parts of the world meaning large quantities of food were at risk of going to waste. On the positive side, we’ve seen a huge increase in surplus food redistribution going to help those in need.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the stark statistics on the scale of food loss and waste, mean that it is becoming increasingly clear that action is needed.

Today, as we mark the inaugural International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, the great news is that by taking the right action together we can deliver multiple benefits. That’s the message of the World Bank’s Addressing Food Loss and Waste: A Global Problem with Local Solutions, and it’s the ethos that lies at the heart of WRAP’s work.

We know that the reasons behind food loss and waste are complex, and that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Which is why, in the 25 countries we’re working in globally, we collaborate with in-country partners who understand not only the culture but the on-the-ground challenges of the diverse nations and regions in which we work. Collaboration lies at the heart of what we do, from our bringing together businesses from right through the supply chain to deliver systemic change, to supporting citizens in helping them reduce their own food waste.

We are proud that our expertise contributed to this game-changing report from the World Bank, and call on all nations to make plans to flight food loss and waste and help tackle climate change and hunger this International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. We know it is a priority, we know what approaches work and increasingly how they can be effectively and rapidly implemented. It is time to prioritise action globally on food loss and waste.

This week, Sir David Attenborough was asked what one thing we should all do today to protect the planet? He said simply, “Don’t waste. Don’t waste anything. Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste food, don’t waste power. Just treat the natural world as though it’s precious, which it is.”

Exactly, and the one other thing we cannot waste is time.