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Government and supermarkets must do more to prevent food waste scandal

30 April 2017

The Government should establish a national food waste reduction target to drive efforts to reduce the food waste costing the average person in the UK £200 per year and supermarkets should publicly report data on the amount of food they bin and relax rules that prevent the sale of "wonky vegetables" to combat food waste, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee says in its report.

Committee Chair Neil Parish MP:

One-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally and in the UK over £10 billion worth of food is thrown away by households every year. Food waste has grotesque economic, social and environmental costs. Economically, food waste costs households hundreds of pounds a year and causes increased disposal costs to local authorities, pushing up council tax bills.

Socially it is a scandal that people are going hungry and using food banks when so much produce is being wasted. And environmentally it is a disaster, because energy and resources are wasted in production only for the food to end up rotting in landfills where it produces methane—a potent climate-changing gas.

We commend Tesco for publishing its food waste data from across the supply chain. Sainsbury's is moving in the same direction, but needs more transparency. The fact that no other retailers have followed their lead shows that a voluntary approach is inadequate. The Government needs to step in and force other major supermarkets to be transparent about food waste. We welcome the will shown by retailers to redistribute surplus food. However, we believe that more must be done. There is a huge amount of surplus food that is currently not being redistributed."

Public awareness

A priority must then be placed on awareness raising work. In 2015 alone, £13 billion of food was wasted in the UK, costing the average household £470 a year—or those with children £700. The MPs believe that awareness of food waste should start at an early age and they recommend that the Government examines how lessons on food and food waste can be incorporated into the curriculum.

Funding for WRAP

The committee also raises concerns that Defra's funding for WRAP has reduced over recent years, despite the waste body's significant achievements in spurring food waste reduction through UK wide voluntary initiatives. It is essential that the Government provides WRAP with sufficient public funding so that—alongside investment from other sources—it has adequate resources to enable it to maintain its food waste reduction programmes.

Local Authority responsibility

The report also concludes that local authorities should remain responsible for addressing the specific challenges and barriers to increasing food waste collections that they face at a local level. However, guidance and best practice should be shared at a national level in order to move towards a standardised approach and to assist local authorities to improve their individual performance.
The MPs say that the incoming Government consider a national strategy to ensure a consistent collection of waste and recycling across the UK.

The Committee is also calling on the Government to work closely with WRAP and Local Authorities to ensure that separate food waste collections are offered to as many households as possible within the UK. And Local authorities must look at the opportunities to introduce separate food waste collection when new waste contracts are put in place.

"The Government should drive progress on food waste in England by setting a national target for food waste reduction. In the way that Scotland, the USA and many of our European counterparts do. And supermarkets need to do much more. It's ridiculous that perfectly good vegetables are wasted simply because they're a funny shape. Farmers supplying fruits and vegetables to UK supermarkets currently get their produce rejected on the grounds that it fails to meet cosmetic quality standards set by the big retailers. Knobbly carrots and parsnips don't cook or taste any different. It's high time we saved them from the supermarket reject bins!"

Food labelling

The incoming Government should continue the current review with WRAP and the Food Standards Agency on food date labelling, with a view to issuing guidance to industry by the end of the year. The review should specifically look at whether there is a need for 'best before' dates at all. The Committee also calls on supermarkets to make improvements to their packaging, such as increasing the use of split and re-sealable packets, to help consumers reduce food waste.

Mandatory food waste collection for businesses

The Government should mandate food businesses and retailers over a particular size to separate food waste.

Chair's comment

Neil Parish MP concluded:

"The best thing we can do is to prevent raw materials, ingredients and products from becoming waste in the first place. If surplus cannot be prevented, then redistribution to people in need or as animal feed is the next best option. Once it is thrown away the best way of dealing with food waste is to recycle it by sending it to anaerobic digestion or composting. The worst way to deal with it is to send it for disposal through waste incineration without energy recovery or to send it to landfill."

Further information

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