Making Progress

IGOODWINiLiz Goodwin, CEO, WRAP

As food waste has risen sharply up the agenda of governments and businesses across the world, WRAP – a company which advises governments and businesses on resource efficiency and a partner in UNEP and FAO’s ‘Think.Eat.Save’ campaign - has conducted pioneering research to identify its most significant sources, its types and its causes, so as to evolve a strategy to tackle it.

Our report, ‘The Food We Waste’, published in 2007, spotlighted the scale of the issue for the first time. It showed that most of the food waste generated in the UK happens in the home, and much is avoidable. Waste often arises from lack of planning, misunderstanding date labels, getting portion sizes wrong, and not having the skills to use up leftovers or knowledge on how to store food properly. Our ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign, designed to empower people to take action, closely followed.

The campaign centres on a website ( www.lovefoodhatewaste.com ), which attracts more than one million visits a year and gives consumers carefully researched practical advice on how they can get the most out of the food they buy. Having identified the behaviours that can lead to food waste, the campaign offers practical solutions to encourage such changes as checking cupboards before shopping, meal planning, using leftovers in new recipes, making the best use of packaging, and understanding the meaning of different food labels to keep food fresher for longer. We also work with and through a wide range of partners including retailers, brands and local authorities who use our insights, evidence, tested messages and campaign materials to communicate directly with consumers.

Since its launch, the campaign has helped UK households reduce food waste from 8.3m tonnes a year to 7.2m tonnes, saving £2.5 billion year. And that’s not to mention the environmental benefits: we have calculated that if every Briton stopped wasting food that could have been eaten, the effect would be the equivalent of taking one in five cars off the road. We have also worked closely with manufacturers, regulators and governments to bring about innovations, especially in packaging and labelling, to make it easier for consumers to buy the right amount.

Food is a critical natural resource which, with a growing global population, has to be secured, and an equally critical part of most national economies. Though tackling food waste in the home was our first priority, we also know that around 15 million tonnes is wasted through the supply chain, from farm to factory gate and onwards, with around 3.6 million tonnes from food manufacture and retail. The Courtauld Commitment, which counts almost all the UK’s major supermarkets and brands as signatories, has introduced targets to reduce it through the supply chain. This kind of action from businesses is crucial to ensure future availability, while industry faces volatile food prices and poor harvests, and an estimated 900m people globally don’t have enough food to eat.

We’ve recently reached the end of the second phase of the commitment, and will report on results this Autumn. Supply chain waste has already been reduced by 8.8 percent, well ahead of the  5 percent  three-year target. So far, signatories and consumers have successfully prevented 2.3 million tonnes of waste , valued at around £3.5 billion. A third phase will tackle areas with significant environmental impact, focussing on dealing with the pressing environmental issues industry now faces, while positioning for the future.

Identifying which products have the greatest environmental impact is essential, and we’re coming up with major insights through our Product Sustainability Forum (PSF). Understanding them means we can help businesses to prioritise their efforts to make the biggest environmental and economic savings. In March this year, the PSF published its first research report, bringing together product life-cycle data from over 150 published studies and from its members and industry, making it the most comprehensive study of its kind. The Co-operative Group, Nestle and Sainsbury’s are among the first major retailers and brands building on this work and looking for ways to improve the environmental performance of some of their products, through pilot projects known as ‘pathfinders’.

The hospitality sector has a major role in promoting food security and tackling waste, and is also critical to many economies. WRAP is working with it through our Hospitality and Food Service Agreement, to which almost 150 organisations have already signed up, aiming to cut food and associated packaging waste by 5 percent - and increase the overall rate of food and packaging waste that is being recycled, sent to anaerobic digestion or composted, to 70 percent - by 2015.

Awareness of the global scale of the problem is now widespread. Just three days after the Think.Eat.Save launch, I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where the environmental and economic opportunities in food waste reduction were high on the agenda - after speaking last year, at Rio+20 in Brazil to an audience of governments and thought leaders. We’re currently working with UNEP and FAO to produce a toolkit, based on our experience in reducing food waste in the UK, for other countries and supply chains across the world. We’re also a lead partner on FUSIONS, a four-year project working towards achieving a more resource efficient Europe by significantly reducing food waste.

Current levels of food waste, demographic pressures - and, indeed, increasing extreme weather events - combine to present us with an enormous challenge. While we have demonstrated that good progress can be made, there is still a huge amount to do. We therefore welcome the opportunity to work with others across the world, in order to share experiences of what has and hasn’t worked, and discuss what more can be done. Let’s continue to work together, learn from each other, and make a real difference.

Note for contents page.
LIZ GOODWIN : Making progress.
A pioneering national campaign has succeeded in cutting waste in homes and industry alike.

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