New research from food waste prevention experts, WRAP, estimates that 1.9 million tonnes* of food is wasted in the UK grocery supply chain every year. However, 0.7 million tonnes of material, which could have become waste, is either being redistributed to people (47,000 tonnes; the equivalent of 90 million meals a year) or diverted to animal feed. Looking ahead, action to increase prevention of food waste could save businesses £300 million a year.
As the principal contractor to WRAP, Resource Futures led on project management and was active in delivering fieldwork, bringing food and drink manufacturers to the project and writing the final report.
The report, Quantification of food surplus, waste and related materials in the grocery supply chain, funded mainly by Defra and Welsh Government, is the most comprehensive review of surplus food and food waste from UK food manufacturers and grocery retailers. Not only does it highlight the overall avoidable food waste figures (1.1Mt) for the sector but, for the first time, breaks it down into manufacturing sub-sectors**, such as meat and dairy.
It also shows that the food manufacturing and retail sectors in the UK are highly efficient, with less than 5% food surplus and waste, and that food waste levels are lower than previously reported. While good progress has already been made in reducing food waste***, the report identifies that a further 450kt of food waste a year could be prevented by 2025, a reduction of 23% compared to total food waste levels reported today. Realising this potential, in particular preventing food from being wasted in the first place and increasing redistribution will be hugely challenging.
The research also identifies that of the current food surplus and waste, around 270kt may be suitable for redistribution. Even after efforts to prevent food waste arising in the supply chain (potentially saving businesses £300 million a year), there will still be the opportunity to increase redistribution four-fold, to the equivalent of at least 360 million meals. The amount of food surplus diverted to animal feed could also increase by up to 20%****.
Insights from the report - including the causes, recommended actions and associated savings - are being shared with businesses in the food and drink sector as part of the Courtauld Commitment 2025. The 10-year voluntary agreement managed by WRAP is set to make UK food and drink production and consumption more sustainable. Using these insights businesses can focus action on areas that will have most impact; helping to achieve the targets from Courtauld and Welsh Government, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3*****.
Dr Richard Swannell, Director at WRAP, said: “Today’s report, which uses new and more robust methodologies, gives us the clearest indication yet of where, and why, food surpluses and waste occur. 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. This will significantly contribute to delivering the Courtauld 2025 food waste prevention target.”
Stuart Woodham, Consultant at Resource Futures, said: “By working closely with the manufacturers and supermarkets in the grocery supply chain, we’ve been able to gain a more detailed understanding of the food waste challenge than before. The new research methodology, which incorporates site data direct from the points of production and sale, has provided further insight into the root causes of food waste in the supply chain and where it’s ending up. Priority areas for a range of waste prevention interventions have been identified and, where that isn’t realistically possible, what the optimum use of food waste that can’t be prevented should be.”
To help food manufacturers and retailers tackle the food surplus and waste, WRAP is providing support through new technical guidance, tools and case studies. This includes new Guidance for Food and Drink Manufacturers and Retailers on the Use of Food Surplus as Animal Feed, also published today. This resource helps identify, manage and divert food surplus to animal feed in line with relevant legislation. It is a companion piece to WRAP’s Framework for Effective Redistribution Partnerships, which helps people to set up redistribution arrangements between retailers, manufacturers and charities.
This work builds on a Ministerial roundtable which helped focus attention on the opportunities for industry action, and the Courtauld 3 waste prevention working group, set up last year to help develop practical solutions and evidence. Further progress will be facilitated and tracked through Courtauld 2025 Working Groups (one of which will focus on redistribution) and reporting.
*Total food waste (avoidable and unavoidable) in grocery supply chain is 1.9Mt, where 1.7Mt arises during manufacture and 210kt arises during retail. The amounts of food surplus and waste in manufacture represent the equivalent of 4.2% of UK production (around 58 million tonnes), whilst retail food surplus and waste represent the equivalent of less than 1% of sales (around 37 million tonnes).
The analysis has resulted in a revised estimate for total food waste in UK manufacture (1.7Mt), which is significantly lower than previously estimated (3.9 million tonnes, 2011). The current research has a better understanding of the different waste streams, meaning a significant tonnage of material associated with food production - but not made up of food - could be excluded (for example waste from the cleaning of equipment between batches of product which may contain some food, but will be primarily water, and other materials such as soil and bedding brought in with produce and livestock). In addition, efforts made by manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste arisings and amounts of surplus going to waste, for example under WRAPs Courtauld Commitment, have reduced food waste during the intervening period by around 200kt or 10%.
** Volumes of avoidable food waste occurring in the top five manufacturing sub-sectors (and the individual % of total avoidable manufacturing food waste for that sub-sector) are:
Dairy products – 200kt (23%)
Meat, poultry and fish – 160kt (18%)
Ambient products – 130kt (15%)
Fresh fruit & vegetable processing – 100kt (11%)
Bakery, cake and cereals – 90kt (10%)
*** Retailers and manufacturers are already doing a lot to ensure suitable food surplus is being made available for redistribution, and under Courtauld 3 signatories reported a 74% increase in the amounts being redistributed between 2012 and 2014.
**** The amounts of food surplus available for redistribution will in part depend on the timing and extent of initiatives to prevent food surplus and waste being generated in the first place. There are inherent challenges with such complex analysis and some inevitable data uncertainties and limitations, which are explored in the report.
***** The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are an important step to securing a better global future. Goal 12.3 specifically, aims to halve retail and consumer food waste and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg12