Rooting out waste in the supply chain

Retailers have made great strides in reducing packaging and food waste. The next big step is to transfer that learning to their suppliers, says Richard Swannell

The grocery sector has made great strides in reducing food and packaging waste. In just one year, the UK’s leading retailers and brands have reduced packaging by 5.1%, which equates to a weight reduction of 226,000 tonnes, and 295,000 tonnes CO2 equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions. In the same period, household food waste has been cut by 3%, a 260,000 tonne reduction.

The results mark the first year achievements of phase 2 of the Courtauld Commitment, a responsibility deal run by WRAP, aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing the carbon and wider environmental impact of the grocery retail sector.

The agreement, which runs until the end of 2012, follows the successful Courtauld 1, which ran between 2005 and 2009. Courtauld 1 saw significant environmental and financial benefits to signatories, with an estimated 3.3m tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions avoided through packaging and food waste reductions. The value of this decrease to business and consumers was significant at £1.8bn.

Courtauld 1 undoubtedly had an important CO2 impact, but it was clear that the world had moved on a quite a pace in the five years since the agreement began. With this change came a responsibility to ensure that any new targets set out in phase 2 were appropriate for the next three years.

It was decided through a series of meetings and workshops with signatories and partners in the grocery sector, that phase 2 needed to move away from solely weight-based targets. A new aim to achieve more sustainable use of resources over the entire lifecycle of products, throughout the whole supply chain was decided upon as the best course of action.

Factoring in the supply chain was, and still is, extremely important. The first year results of phase 2 show that while there has been a reduction in grocery product and packaging of 0.4%, there is still much more work to be done to achieve the ambitious target supply chain target of 5% by the end of the agreement.

Momentum is key to helping achieve this. Signatories already had five years to plan and consider ways to reduce packaging and food waste weight due to the Courtauld 1 targets. This allowed a smoother transition into phase 2, where they could transfer their knowledge and skills to adapt to the new challenging packaging and food waste objectives.

This was not the case with the supply chain; where for the focus on waste prevention was new. Yet, we have every reason to be optimistic that the supply chain target will be met due to the excellent work already underway.

For example, over the first year reporting period of Courtauld phase 2, the grocery supply chain reduced waste going to landfill by 40%, with much of this going to anaerobic digestion for renewable energy production. Now what is needed is to transfer this success to reducing product and packaging in the supply chain. Once the momentum begins we have every reason to believe that the targets can be met.

As much as we will be assisting signatories to build momentum for the supply chain targets we will ensure that this is not at the detriment to the other objectives, which are still going to be hard to meet, despite the impressive start.

Making a good start is important, but ensuring the end goal is achieved is what really counts, and although we are confident this will happen, there is still much work to be done in this year to make this a reality.

Dr Richard Swannell is director of design & waste prevention at WRAP

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