The state of waste across the global food chain remains shocking reading, whether you are involved in the waste industry or not.
It is estimated that a staggering 50% of all food produced on the planet never reaches its intended human stomach.
When you consider all the resources that go into producing that food – water, land, energy and labour – it is a very scary prospect. Add to this the pressure on the world’s food production, such as increasing populations, changing diets, drought and flood, and there is a real issue that needs to be tackled globally.
With that in mind, news of the next phase of WRAP’s Courtauld programme can only be welcomed. Courtauld 2025 aims to work with the supply chain to help consumers reduce avoidable waste and encourage businesses to share efficiency savings, waste less and get more value from unavoidable waste.
It is important we recognise that no business intentionally wastes food. The recession, in particular, made companies analyse their costs, prioritise expenditure and reduce loss to boost profitability. But it is tackling issues along the supply chain or in processing that will make an important difference moving forward.
In pulling together our Vision 2020 roadmap, distribution is the one area of the food chain where there is a real lack of clarity, and therefore data, about where waste is generated. Part of this could be explained in how closely this waste is aligned to other areas of the food chain, and assigning the waste to either manufacturers or retailers.
Consequently, distribution is a part of the supply chain where food waste can ‘disappear’ and so more attention is needed. Typical of the problems reported in distribution are issues with poor and damaged packaging, faulty or inaccurate temperature control and environmental factors such as damp or contamination.
Such unplanned bulk waste is difficult to avoid, so it is crucial that, when it does occur, it ends up being sustainably disposed of via processes such as anaerobic digestion and measures are put in place to minimise the potential for future incidents.
Packaging optimisation has achieved a great deal in terms of reduced material use and lightweighting to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions. But to travel along the fast-moving consumer goods supply chain, products must be robust. There are limited opportunities to continue to optimise packaging without raising the risk of creating more waste elsewhere because products can be damaged easily during the transfer points between manufacturer, warehouse, shop and consumer.
Courtauld 2025 acknowledges this and, while we await greater detail and targets to be announced early next year, initial information shows a shift in focus to packaging design, recycled content and recyclability alongside reducing household and food production waste.
But the one thing missed around Courtauld is that it is a voluntary agreement and not mandatory – companies across the food chain sign up to it because they are passionate and committed to reducing their environmental impact. With only 53 companies signed up to Courtauld, there is a significant proportion of those operating in the food chain not involved – the Food and Drink Federation alone has more than250 members.
The question is how are we to gain commitment from the remainder to take action and work to avoid food waste, and ensure that any unavoidable elements are being recycled rather than sent to landfill?
Crudely, if around only 20% are making progress, then 80% of the waste generated by the food chain could still be ending up in landfill. This brings us back to the issue of the lack of regulation coming from the Government requiring businesses and homeowners to separate food waste and ensure it is recycled. Without some sort of impetus to require businesses to make changes, we are never going to eradicate food waste from landfill and achieve our aspirations for a truly sustainable food chain.
The work and achievements of those involved in the first three phases of the Courtauld Commitment must be commended – a significant amount has been achieved. If all involved in the food chain were to take a similar approach then we would be winning in terms of reducing wastage, energy consumption and improving overall sustainability.
But for Courtauld 2025 to really be a success,… there needs to be a way to ensure that everyone involved in the food chain signs up and delivers against the targets.
Philip Simpson is commercial director at Saria