Liz Goodwin: Britain at risk of losing global food waste leadership

EXCLUSIVE: Britain's global leadership on food waste has "plateaued" and requires the combined effort of consumers, retailers, and policymakers to keep the nation on track with reduction commitments, the World Resources Institute's (WRI) director of food loss and waste Liz Goodwin has said.

Goodwin, who joined the WRI from WRAP last year, believes the issue should remain apolitical and rejects the notion that the UK’s food waste targets will be impacted by Brexit negotiations.

During her tenure as WRAP chief between 2007 and June 2016, UK food waste was reduced by 21% in four years, and pioneering initiatives such as the Courtauld Commitment and Love Food Hate Waste schemes were established and prospered.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 12:3 Champion currently leads a WRI team which addresses food waste from a global perspective. Speaking exclusively to edie, Goodin stressed that the UK is still ahead of other countries, but admitted the gap is starting to wane.

“The UK has been leading,” Goodwin said. “It is still the only country that has really good understanding of the amounts of food that is wasted, particularly through the household, but also through the supply chain. Nobody else in the world has the same level of understanding, so we are streets ahead in that respect. We are the only ones that have done some work on it and can demonstrate and show measurable evidence that we can reduce food waste.

“The issue is that it’s now plateaued. So, how do we kick-start that and how do we get it going again? We are leaders, but we need to maintain that leadership position. If we can’t do it, and we know where the problems are, then how can we expect the rest of the world to?”

‘No one solution’

Figures released this month show that, while the UK’s major retailers and manufacturers have generated huge financial savings in food waste initiatives, progress to reduce household food waste has stalled in recent years. Goodwin attributes this decline to a range of factors, such as an inability to go beyond the “low-hanging fruits” and the rise of consumers “taking their eye of the ball” in post-recession UK.

Goodwin finds it “ridiculous” that the average UK household is throwing away £700 worth of food every year. Retailers have made some attempts to address this issue – from innovative food waste apps to redistribution campaigns. These initiatives must now be scaled up and matched by improved product advice to increase consumer awareness, Goodwin says.

“The retailers have been doing quite a lot of good work in terms of displays around the shops and tips on how to use food leftovers on their website – we need more of that. The more everyone does to make sure we are moving in the right direction is important.

“There’s no one solution, it will take a combination of approaches. There will be some technology developments and advances which will help keep food for longer which will be good. The retailers can do more in terms of pack sizes and re-sealable packs and making sure we can use food for longer. There are things that can be done to help us, but we also need to own the issue a bit ourselves, making sure that we are planning and thinking about how we are using food and when we’ve got leftovers, making sure that we use them up.”

Prominent food waste campaigners such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Tristram Stuart have previously made the case for the UK Government to “beef up” its regulatory approach, through various methods such national reduction targets and labelling reform. Moreover, funding cuts to WRAP’s annual budget have drawn criticism from industry experts, who have lamented the Government’s hands-off approach.

According to Goodwin, greater state support would help to reduce pressure on WRAP’s schemes and resources. “I have to say that Government cuts in funding don’t help,” she said. “You’re trying to find ways to do what you can with less money. I am not complaining about Government budget cuts for WRAP but I do think that cuts put pressure on programmes because you have to find other creative ways of doing things and achieving things.”

Brexit barriers?

Goodwin’s role at the WRI is to help drive the various initiatives that are required around the world to help achieve the UN SDG 12:3, which aims to halve global food waste by 2030. Schemes such as the Courtauld Commitment are useful to help “focus the mind” and ensure that neither the public and private sector “lose sight” of long-term pledges, Goodwin believes.

The national focus in 2017 will shift towards the UK’s role in the EU Circular Economy Package, a document which could force Member States to legally enforce the SDG 12:3 goal at a national level. The UK’s impending departure from the EU and the Circular Economy Package should not be a cause for concern, according to Goodwin, who suggests that food waste leadership and innovation should be driven from the business, rather than political, community.

“I tend to think this should be apolitical,” she said. “Nobody can argue that food waste is a good thing. So therefore, I think it’s apolitical. We have it within our powers to do something about it. Certainly the retailers and the businesses can do this without the Circular Economy Package.

“It’s useful to have the Government support because it’s helpful to have the right framework, and if there are barriers, they can be removed. But actually, we can just get on and do this. We need to have leadership from Government, but also from within society and within businesses.”

George Ogleby

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