The latest figures published in WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2025 Milestone Progress Report indicate that food waste rates in the UK have decreased. But Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, believes we shouldn’t be celebrating just yet…
According to the report, food waste rates across the UK dropped by 480,000 tonnes between 2015 and 2018. This equates to around seven per cent per person. This is, of course, very welcome news indeed and confirms that the efforts being made across the supply chain in cutting unnecessary waste – and protecting the environment – are starting to bear fruit.
The decline can be attributed to several factors. For instance, labelling on food packaging has improved markedly, while we have seen the arrival of numerous novel technologies to support commercial food waste reduction ambitions. Meanwhile, across the board, there is much broader awareness and understanding of the benefits of food waste recycling.
The progress to date is sound, and all concerned should be congratulated – but there is still much that remains to be done. A staggering 10 million tonnes of food is still wasted in the UK every year. Unsurprisingly, this makes food the biggest single material source sent to landfill – and that is simply not sustainable.
In UK households alone, some 4.5 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten is thrown away. To put this into context, it amounts to some 10 billion meals being served and left untouched. The cost to the average family is around £700 annually – or the equivalent of 10 weeks’ supermarket food shopping for a family of three.
It is evident, therefore, that more needs to be done – and we see there being three key strands to achieving this. The first centres on education. If we can continue to educate homeowners and businesses about the environmental and financial consequences of wasting food, while supporting the adoption of zero waste behaviour, food waste as a whole will become less and less acceptable.
Meanwhile, we need to incentivise positive behaviour and punish areas of neglect – simultaneously employing the carrot and the stick. Currently, there is no penalty for sending food waste to landfill. However, if we were to implement a national ban, with swingeing fines or worse for offenders, it would force dramatically improved figures.
Most important of all, however, is the implementation of uniform food waste collection and recycling services for homeowners across the whole country. This would in itself represent the single greatest contributor to lowering our national food waste mountain.
Currently, some 13.4 million households across the UK – nearly half – do not have access to a collection service for food waste. This statistic is proving a huge barrier to our reduction ambitions – and simply has to change.
While often deemed as expensive, food waste recycling is significantly less costly than more traditional disposal options. Furthermore, recycled food waste content can be harnessed to generate renewable energy, which is essential in the journey to a low-carbon national energy landscape.
At ReFood, we harbour a vision of zero food waste in the UK. National progress over the past three years has indeed been positive, but continued action and momentum are essential if we are to move further down the road towards this target.
Getting there would deliver widespread environmental and economic benefits – all while preventing the release of harmful greenhouse gases from landfill.