Food and drink firms told to intensify efforts to combat ‘untouched’ food waste

SCROLL DOWN FOR FULL REPORT. Food and drink companies face renewed calls today to implement better product packaging and labelling measures as new research reveals 2 million tonnes of household food in the UK is thrown away because it is judged to be past its prime.

A report from WRAP further reveals that half of this amount is thrown away either intact or in unopened packaging. In a third of cases (660,000 tonnes) passing a date label triggered disposal, while foods judged to be stale or mouldy were responsible for most of the remaining 1.3 million tonnes.

This level of waste is estimated to be costing consumers around £2.4bn a year. WRAP is now calling for businesses signed up to its Courtauld Commitment to do more around packaging design, storage guidance and date label clarification.

Specific measures proposed within the report include extending the length of shelf life and applying a ‘best before’ date on perishable foods where possible. In addition, to accelerate the roll out and increase public awareness of the ‘freeze before date mark’ label, a replacement of the ‘freeze on day of purchase’ label.

The report states: “More guidance on freezing whole or part-used packs could be beneficial, particularly for meat and bakery products. Tackling the barriers related to further freezer uptake would enable people to take the necessary steps to store the product to allow them longer to use it.”

Packaging design is another key area – the report sets out a number of recommendations here, ranging from introducing a range of pack sizes, that are still value for money, and offering smaller multipacks that reflect the needs of changing demographics.

WRAP highlights waste reduction work with the dairy sector, where a shift from ‘use by’ to ‘best before’ labels for hard cheeses could be applied to other product lines such as yoghurts. It also points to the fact that more packs of cheese are now reclosable.

“Given the date label is used in a high proportion of decisions this suggests that there is still some uncertainty and lack of trust that could be overcome through continued communications activities – to reiterate what ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ mean,” the report states.

It also suggests more waste flow analysis needs to be done at product level, given that 90% of waste occurs in amounts more than 50g (the weight of an average tomato) and a third in amounts more than 400g (the weight of a small loaf of bread).

Regarding bread, WRAP argues that the food industry could “work to challenge preconceived notions of a three to four day shelf-life (which may be linked to sub-optimal storage) to help people finish loaves that have been started.” It suggests better marketing to make smaller loaves more appealing to shoppers, and making crusts and ends more palatable, given that 110,000 tonnes of bakery waste is from crusts.

According to WRAP’s head of food sustainability David Moon, while a significant amount of work has been undertaken by food and drink firms to introduce innovative approaches to keep food fresher for longer, efforts need to be intensified.

“With 4.2 million tonnes of edible food thrown away each year from the home, more needs to be done. These insights will enable the food industry to target their interventions in the areas that will deliver the greatest reduction in food waste and save consumers money,” he said.

This report coincides with Love Food Hate Waste’s 10 Cities campaign launched today. The campaign aims to help the food and drink sector meet a key Courtauld target to reduce household food waste by 5% by 2015 against a 2012 baseline, and will work in partnership with major grocery retailers including Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, The Co-operative Food and M&S.

In a separate development, WRAP has announced today it is searching for a new chairman to guide the organisation through the next stage of its development, following the retirement of current chair Peter Stone from his post.

Household Food and Drink Waste a Product Focus

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie