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Voluntary action ‘not enough’ to tackle increased food waste

food waste

Waste management experts have questioned the Government’s dependence on voluntary agreements to tackle food waste, after WRAP revealed that UK households threw out food worth £13bn in 2015.

The latest figures, outlined in a WRAP report, show an increase in the amount of household food waste in the UK in 2015 stood at 7.3 million tonnes, an increase of 4.4% over 2012, the baseline year.

Added to this, the amount of ‘avoidable’ food waste increased 5.1% to 4.4 million tonnes.

The third phase of the voluntary Courtauld agreement with industry included a target to reduce household food waste by 5% by 2015 compared with 2012.

WRAP said the UK increases were “not statistically significant”, but admitted the target had not been met.

The report said lessons would be drawn from Wales, which has reduced household food waste by an estimated 12% per person since 2009, in part due to wider availability of council food waste collections.

It was also revealed that businesses involved in the voluntary Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (HaFSA) had hit their collective waste prevention target but fallen short on efforts to increase the overall rate for recycling and material sent to anaerobic digestion or for composting.

Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) chief executive Colin Church said progress had been made through Courtauld and HaFSA.

But he added: “Voluntary initiatives have their place where the interests of different actors can be aligned. But where those interests differ markedly, or the essential supporting infrastructure is not in place, they can only take us so far before more firm-handed action is needed to change behaviours and outcomes.

“The excellent work of WRAP and others on reducing food waste is great and must remain a part of the toolkit but, without more action on food waste collections, it may not be enough to drive further progress.”

James Samworth, a partner at the Foresight Group, said: “It is clear that the more interventionist stance on food waste collection and disposal adopted through legislation by Wales and Scotland is delivering results.

“Therefore it is surprising that England has not followed these successes and remains reluctant to legislate. Investors have little faith in voluntary commitments which have a tendency to unravel under economic pressures.”

Resources minister Therese Coffey said “good progress” had been made by industry to tackle food and packaging waste in the supply chain.

“But we all have a role to play and, despite a million-tonne fall in domestic food waste since 2007, there is clearly more we need to do,” she added. “That is why we will continue to work with WRAP to support its strategy to raise awareness, increase education and change people’s perceptions of food waste.”

WRAP chief executive Marcus Gover told MRW he was disappointed that the target had not been met.

Speaking at the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum, he said: “I’m calling on everyone to unite. We have to come together because we need action. Television programmes have drawn attention to food waste but we need to galvanise people. It is our number one priority for 2017.

“The economic climate has been a factor. While we made huge progress in early years, the message was aligned to saving money. Now we need a different approach.

 “People need to want to do it and then they need to know how to do it. In fact, 60% of people believe they don’t waste food – we’re all in denial.

 “We need much more detailed analysis of what makes people respond so that we get the right messages to the right people. We need a more sophisticated campaign.”

Jeremy Jacobs, technical director, Renewable Energy Association

The work being done by WRAP is excellent and, as a member of the Food Waste Recycling Action Plan (FWRAP), there are some good initiatives being taken. 

Personally, I do not believe that these changes alone will bring about the step change we require if we are to get buy-in from everyone. Waste minimisation has to come first, but it is evident that there remain significant volumes of food waste going to landfill and incineration. Unless there is a policy mandate to offer food waste collections to all households, then it is unlikely that local authorities will do this voluntarily as their funding is cut year on year. 

With less than 50% of councils offering food waste collections, it is difficult to see how one can get the remaining 50% engaged other than by taking a mandatory approach when there is reduced funding from central Government.

Climate change mitigation is a key tenet of this Government’s plans, and treating food waste through AD or composting assists greatly in mitigating the impacts of treating this material compared with landfill. There is a move towards three-weekly collections for residual waste (East Devon shortly) which means that food waste needs to be collected weekly, so this should assist in our ambition.

But the roll-out of such schemes is still very slow. In summary, a mandatory approach to food waste collections will provide confidence to investors and industry, create jobs and provide a better environmental outcome.

The devolved governments’ commitment to this approach is absolute. But England is dragging its heels as a result of a lack of funding, not of commitment from local authorities, which are keen to pursue this objective but are unable to.

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