Grocery supply chain could do more to cut food waste

17 May 2016

The grocery supply chain could significantly reduce its avoidable food waste over the next ten years, according to a new study by WRAP.

The resource efficiency charity said that a combination of preventing food waste from arising in the first place, redistributing ‘waste’ food, and using it as animal feed, could stop £300m worth of surplus food being thrown away each year.

The report, Quantification of food surplus, waste and related materials in the grocery supply chain, examined surplus food and food waste from UK food manufacturers and grocery retailers.

Around 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK grocery supply chain annually, according to WRAP, with 1.7 million tonnes arising during manufacture and 210,000 tonnes during retail. However, 1.1 million tonnes of waste was avoidable, WRAP said.

The report, funded mainly by Defra and the Welsh Government, also showed that the food manufacturing and retail sectors in the UK are highly efficient, with less than 5% food surplus and waste. The amount of food surplus and waste in manufacture represented 4.2% of UK production, while retail food surplus and waste represented less than 1% of sales, the report said.

WRAP also said its new research showed that total food waste in UK manufacture was significantly lower than the 2011 estimate of 3.9 million tonnes. Better understanding of different waste streams meant that a significant tonnage of material associated with food production, but not made up of food, could be excluded, it said. Efforts by manufacturers and retailers had also reduced food waste by around 10% during the intervening period.

WRAP said that 700,000 tonnes of surplus food was already being redistributed to people or diverted to animal feed. While it acknowledged the progress, it said that a further 450,000 tonnes of food waste per year could be prevented by 2025.

Richard Swannell, director at WRAP, said that the report gave the clearest indication yet of food waste. “Through a combination of prevention, redistribution to people and diversion to animal feed, the grocery supply chain could, in the next 10 years, almost halve its avoidable food waste, from 2009 when we first started work in this area,” he said. “This will significantly contribute to delivering the Courtauld 2025 food waste prevention target.”

Andrew Opie, the British Retail Consortium's director of food and sustainability, said that reducing food waste made commercial sense and was the best way to reduce retailers’ environmental impact.

“We are pleased the report recognises our progress and confirms the tiny proportion of waste from our stores,” he said. “However, we know we need to do more not only to cut waste but also redistribute surplus food, which is why we are committed to extending our work with charities and are central to the implementation of the new initiative Courtauld 2025.”

Lindsay Boswell, CEO of FareShare, which works in partnership with companies to redistribute surplus food, said that although it worked with more than 450 firms, only around 10,000 tonnes of surplus food was redistributed to charities each year.

“Some food businesses may be unsure about the types of surplus food they can redistribute or feel daunted about the process, but FareShare will work with them to make it as easy and cost-effective as possible to identify and redistribute their good, surplus food to the people who need it most,” she said.

WRAP has also released technical guidance for manufacturers and retailers on the use of food surplus as animal feed.

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