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Chief scientists call for UK-wide commercial food waste separation

England should follow Scotland in introducing compulsory food waste separation for businesses, according to two top Government scientists.

A long-awaited report on waste and resource efficiency, written by the Government chief scientist Mark Walport and Defra chief scientist Ian Boyd, was published on 14 December.

Whereas the main report was written in general terms, a separate food waste report made a number of specific policy recommendations for the Government, businesses and local authorities.

It said the biggest contribution to tackling food waste was to focus on the hospitality and food services sectors which, between them, generate around a million tonnes of food waste every year. The report said 88% of this ended up in landfill or energy-from-waste facilities.

It said: “The recent experience of Scotland shows that placing a clear legal requirement on businesses to separate food waste can increase the amount of waste captured from this sector.

“According to the Renewable Energy Association, large and medium food producers could save up to 10% of their yearly waste collection costs. Paying by weight would serve to increase the savings further, and non-food businesses would incur only a small increase to their yearly costs.”

Under regulations introduced in January 2016, any Scottish business producing more than 5kg of food waste a week is required to collect the material separately. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has had to toughen its response in order to get businesses to comply.

The food waste report also called for greater public support from ministers for WRAP’s ’Love Food, Hate Waste’ and Courtauld 2025 initiatives, which it said had proved effective.

Other recommended initiatives included requiring businesses to produce an annual food surplus and waste minimisation plan, and for the Government to ensure its contractors have such a plan. It also called for greater incentives for councils to collect food waste in order to supply anaerobic digestion facilities.

The main report, From waste to resource productivity, outlined a series of case studies to support reform of markets, regulation and strategy in order to boost resource efficiency.

It was originally scheduled for publication in late 2016, but some sources have told MRW that, because it had been passed around a number of Government departments in draft form, the overarching message of the need for greater resource efficiency had already been heard by ministers. 

Stewart Davies, chairman of the Environmental Services Association, said: “This report is timely, following on from publication of the Government’s Industrial Strategy at the end of last month, and sends a consistent message about the need to improve UK resource productivity. It provides another important building block as we move towards development of Defra’s resources and waste strategy next year.

“The chief scientific advisers have rightly identified that leadership and direction from the Government is an essential ingredient in improving resource productivity at all levels – through a new strategy, better data, promoting innovation and facilitating a more equitable distribution of responsibilities along supply chains. Equally, the report identifies important actions for businesses, including some key sectors, as well as for citizens, cities and local government.

“We need now to convene business sectors across supply chains, along with relevant Government departments, in a resource productivity forum to ensure the insights in this report are thoroughly discussed to inform the approach to the Government’s resources and waste strategy.”

Responding to a tweet from the All Party Parliamentary Group Sustainable Resource Group pointing out that the report repeatedly said it was “not a statement of Government policy”, CIWM chief executive Colin Church suggested it had proved to be controversial among ministers.

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