Halve European food waste by 2030, green groups urge MEPs ahead of crucial vote

Ahead of the European Parliament's (EP) landmark vote on key food waste regulations next week, a union of organisations have today (18 January) backed calls for a 50% food waste reduction across the continent by 2030.

Almost 40 organisations, including Friends of the Earth (FoE), Forum for the Future and Zero Waste Europe, are urging Members of the EP (MEPs) to vote for “farm-to-fork” food waste to be halved within 15 years.

The vote on 24 January will inform the European Union’s (EU) approach on the issue within its Circular Economy Package, a new legislative framework for resource efficiency due to be enforced later this year.

Martin Bowman, an activist for campaign group This Is Rubbish – another of the organisations behind the new movement – said: “The Circular Economy Package has potential to be the most ambitious food waste agreement in the world, and that’s urgently needed – both for the environment and the millions suffering from food poverty in Europe.”

“But the agreement is far from certain – it might be watered down. Corporate lobbyists have been trying to weaken food waste targets, putting both the environment and those living in food poverty at risk. Halving food waste could become an “aspirational” voluntary target, making it easy for European governments and businesses to ignore.

“Some versions of the agreement sideline the mountains of food waste that exist on farms and in factories, before it even gets to the plate. But some businesses waste more in a day than a person does in their home in a year.”

Legally-binding targets

Approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year, according to United Nations (UN) figures, equating to around a third of all food produced for human consumption. A petition calling for the EP’s Environmental Committee to alleviate Europe’s role in this issue has already gained 35,000 signatures.

Campaigners propose that the food waste reduction target must be legally-binding at Member State level rather than a voluntary aim. Other desired outcomes include the creation of a specific food waste hierarchy and a clear definition of food waste which includes product waste during primary production.

FoE activist Kierra Box highlights that a vote in favour for the 50% food waste target would result in the regulation entering into UK law before Brexit, and in consequence shape the country’s approach to food waste after it leaves the EU. “With thousands of people still going hungry across the UK, and the huge environmental impact of wasted food, if our Government tries to wiggle out of this commitment when we leave Europe it will have a fight on its hands,” Box said.

Corporate commitments

Whatever the outcome of next week’s vote and upcoming Brexit negotiations, concerted efforts will be required to reduce the estimated annual 15 million tonnes of food waste here in the UK.

Thankfully, major players within the business community are ramping up efforts to address the issue. Earlier this week, signatories of the flagship Courtauld Commitment, which includes the four major British supermarkets, unveiled a new ambition to double the amount of surplus food that is redistributed across the UK. This followed news that UK retailers and manufacturers have generated an estimated £100m in food waste savings over a three-year period through the Commitment’s previous phase.

Sustainability representatives from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Morrisons will appear in Parliament later today to provide evidence on the role of supermarkets in tackling food waste before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee. Stay tuned to edie for full coverage of the Westminster food waste discussion.

George Ogleby

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