Kicking off our Future of Food journal – which looks at the greatest challenges facing the world in feeding 10 billion people by 2050 – UK Food Surplus and Waste Champion Ben Elliot shares encouraging progress to date and the resources available to tackle one of food’s most pressing issues: waste.
Over the coming weeks we’ll be publishing articles from chefs and campaigners, CEOs and NGOs, as well as scientists and activists, with pieces from the multi-Michelin star chef Massimo Bottura, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, the World Resources Institute, Tristram Stuart and Marion Nestle, among many others.
UK Food Surplus and Waste Champion
Nobody wants to see food go to waste. It’s a waste of resources, it’s a waste of money and it’s morally wrong.
A vast amount of food is going to waste and as the Food Surplus and Waste Champion for Defra that’s something that I am passionate about changing.
In the UK, 9.5 million tonnes of food are wasted annually, most of which occurs in households. That’s around 25 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions produced from the production of wasted food, notwithstanding the waste of water and use of land almost the size of Wales.
My position allows me to see the huge effort which is being taken to tackle food waste across the UK. Industry has come together through the Courtauld Commitment 2025 to identify how best to take action on our farms, in our supply chains and in our homes.
I urge businesses across the supply chain to address food waste in your operations and supply chains and to encourage your customers to bring this attitude into their homes. There are a variety of resources available to you including the Guardians of Grub campaign, which aims to help the hospitality industry, as well as the Food Waste Roadmap from WRAP UK . The latter sets Targets to reduce waste, start to Measure and then Act. This is a key programme that is supported by the SDG Champions 12.3, a unique coalition of executives who are showing international leadership in tackling this problem.
Action needs to be taken to reduce waste in our homes. A UK household wastes on average the equivalent of eight meals a week. I am supporting the launch of a Food Waste Action Week in early 2021 which will aim to raise awareness of food waste as an urgent issue and will acknowledge the links to climate change. I encourage everyone to get involved, but in the meantime and there are plenty of resources for you at Love Food Hate Waste – so there is no excuse!
I want to touch on one aspect of food waste prevention that I’m particularly passionate about and that is ensuring surplus food in the supply chain does not go to waste. I have experienced first-hand, through my work with The Felix Project, the remarkable willingness of people to come together and address the problems of rising food insecurity and food waste through getting surplus food from the hospitality, manufacturing, and retailer sectors to those in need.
The work of organisations such as Felix Project, Company Shop and FareShare, to name just a few, are aiming to bring societal benefit through tackling the problem of food waste. I hope that if you are in the food supply chain you are looking closely at your processes and through your Target, Measure, Act approach your first action will be to make sure any surplus goes to one of these organisations.
Government is there to support this and it was an honour to be involved in awarding grants to support the redistribution sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. Defra made around £5 million worth of grants available to support not-for-profit redistribution organisations with the infrastructure they need to ensure that additional surplus food which arose went to people with a need. I was pleased to see support for projects across England supplying funds for everything from vehicles to fridges.
The UK is an international leader on tackling food waste and we have achieved great progress so far, with an estimated 7% reduction per person between 2015 and 2018. However, there is more to be done and you can help.