Government unveils new £15m scheme to tackle retail food waste

The UK Government has today (1 October) announced that it will spend £15m on a new initiative aimed at redistributing almost £1bn worth of food waste from supermarkets, other retailers and manufacturers.

Announced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, the scheme will see the equivalent of up to 250,000 meals each year – which would otherwise be disposed of by retailers – sent to charities or platforms such as FareShare and Neighbourly for redistribution.

Around 43,000 tonnes of surplus food is currently redistributed from retailers and food manufacturers every year, but the Government estimates that a further 100,000 tonnes are sent to be converted into energy from waste (EfW), included in animal feed or anaerobically digested annually.

The scheme, which is set to launch in late 2019 or early 2020, aims to ensure that the entirety of food waste accounted for at manufacturing or retail level is made available to those in need.

“Nobody wants to see good food go to waste – it harms our environment, it’s bad for business and it’s morally indefensible,” Gove said. “Every year, around 100,000 tonnes of readily available and perfectly edible food is never eaten. This has got to change.”

Leading up to the launch of the scheme, the Government will partner up with retailers and charities to design the initiative. Defra said in a statement that this consultation will ensure the scheme “drives down food waste in the most effective way possible”.

One of the organisations set to be involved is WRAP, which last year launched its Courtauld Commitment 2025 programme to boost sustainability in the food and drink sector.

WRAP’s head of business collaboration David Moon welcomed the funding announcement, claiming it will offer a “great boost” to support networks aimed at tackling food waste and reducing hunger.

“Between 2015 and 2017, surplus food redistributed from retailers, manufacturers, hospitality and food services businesses increased by 50%, with nearly £130m worth of food saved from waste,” Moon said.

“Now, there is the potential to increase this significantly, and to expand the range and type of foods with more fresh produce. Not only will this benefit people, it will also help reduce the huge environmental impact of food waste.”

The announcement follows WRAP’s launch of a new Roadmap to halve food waste by 2030, which has been adopted by the likes of Tesco, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Aldi and Waitrose in the retail sector and Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), Unilever and Kraft Heinz UK in the manufacturing sector. 

Solving the food waste puzzle

The UK’s post-farm food waste mountain currently stands at 10.2 million tonnes per year, according to the latest figures from WRAP, with 1.8 million tonnes generated by manufacturing and 260,000 tonnes accounted for at shop level.

Retailers have made strong progress towards tackling the issue in recent times, with the likes of Asda, Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s among the 157 organisations committed to achieving a 20% reduction in food waste and greenhouse gas emissions through the Courtauld 2025 Commitment.

Elsewhere, Lidl recently told social platform Neighbourly that it would be keen to redistribute more of its food waste abroad, while the Co-op has banned ‘last-minute’ sales of fresh produce and moved to sell tinned goods and dried foods which are past their best-before date for as little as 10p.

However, WRAP believes that supply chain waste and consumer waste remain the two largest contributors to the UK’s food waste mountain, accounting for 2.85 million tonnes and 7.1 million tonnes each year respectively.

 Sarah George

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