EFRA launches food waste inquiry as Europe gears up to tackle supermarket waste

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee has launched a new inquiry to establish the impacts of the seven million tonnes of food waste produced in the UK, as a European-wide campaign to ban supermarkets from throwing away food closes in on a major milestone.

EFRA has launched the enquiry in order to reveal what impacts food waste in England is causing on the environment and the economy. The inquiry will seek to uncover what measures would prove most effective in reducing retailer-caused food waste, while also measuring the effectiveness of existing initiatives.

“Despite the progress made reducing food waste along the supply chain, the amount of reusable, recyclable food that we throw away in the UK is still staggeringly high,” EFRA’s chair Neil Parish said.

“Of the estimated seven million tonnes we discard from our homes each year, nearly half is edible. Not only does this have an impact on the family purse, but the environmental cost is equally heavy. We will be asking what more can be done to reduce food waste and this needless expense to our households.”

According to EFRA, 60% of food waste produced post-manufacturer could be avoided, and that current waste levels are costing the UK approximately £16bn and the industry £0.65bn annually. The environmental cost of food waste also needs to be mitigated, with EFRA stating that eliminating household food waste could reduce emissions by 17m tonnes each year.

European ventures

As part of the inquiry, EFRA will look to comparative approaches to managing food waste across Europe. One potential solution could be found in France – and possibly across Europe in the near future.

Earlier this year, France implemented a ban on supermarkets, forbidding them from throwing away unsold food. With fines reaching up to €75,000, the supermarkets have to donate to food banks and charities as an alternative way to dispose unsold food – a concept that is already proving popular in the UK.

French councillor Arash Drambarsh was instrumental in establishing the law in France – the first country to implement the ban – and has since looked to extend the ban across Europe, with his petition to do so closing in on one million signatures.

As a whole, there is an ongoing movement to end poor trading practices by supermarkets across Europe. While MEPs have voted 600 to 48 to enforce laws that limit the amount of food waste being produced, the European Parliament’s environmental committee has also called for European food waste to be halved by 2030 in a recent report.

Last month, The Food Loss and Waste (FLW) standard was officially launched by partners including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WRAP, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Consumer Goods Forum. The initiative sets new international definitions to help companies improve efforts to transport, consume and store food.

With Europe mobilising on food waste action, both WRAP and food waste recycling company Bio Collectors have called on England, and to a lesser extent London, to lead the battle on food waste.

London boroughs have been urged to develop the “circular economy of food“, rejuvenate plateauing recycling rates and boost activity in surrounding anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. WRAP has launched a UK-wide, five-point action plan aimed at improving household and commercial food waste recycling and collection.

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Matt Mace

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