Food Waste – not just in your bin!

19th May 2017

At the moment reducing food waste is a big focus for all food businesses across the UK. Prime time TV programmes with floppy haired Hugh have been broadcast and hundreds of pictures of bent carrots have invaded twitter to raise awareness of the issues from farm to retail shelf.  The focus has so far has been very much on the actual produce, piles of rejected vegetables appearing on our screens and long lists of the main fridge to bin culprits printed in our papers.

As well as waste on the farms due to very stringent supermarket specifications (and, apologies to sticking my head above the parapet here, the answer here is NOT a cat 2 cheap as chips SKU but a relaxing of the cat 1 normal price specs. Ahem..) we have waste at home, waste in the shops and we also have packaging and energy waste all the way through the chain.

Minitel predicted that the ‘Food Waste’ trend would continue in 2017 and so far it definitely has. It does seem to have evolved however, I think new food waste stories have been progressive.

Earlier this year Tesco  finalised a deal to give all their unsold food at both store and depot level to charities. This is significant – in 2016 Tesco threw away over fifty five tonnes of food. A desire to address this has resulted in FareShare FoodCloud. It has launched in 15 regions (including Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and Southampton) and the aim is to roll it out to all stores by the end of 2017. Tesco are calling on other retailers to sign up to the programme.

IFCO have just released estimates of how they have positively impacted food waste and the environment in honour of their twenty fifth anniversary (along with planned events and a €25,000 donation to food banks across Europe and North America). The purveyors of shared and resuable assets (including the famous green foldable crates) have zero waste as their ultimate goal and I think it’s safe to say that their products have made a massive difference in the last quarter of a century.

They estimate that they have:

  • Eliminated 3.4billion kg of CO2
  • Prevented more than 915,000 tonnes of solid waste
  • Reduced waste consumption by 43 billion litres
  • Saved 317,982 tonnes of produce from damage and waste

Impressive numbers from a system that looked further than our carrots (bent, straight or otherwise) and into the real impact on our world from the movement of produce around continents.

Returnable crates and reusable pallets are now staples of the loose, raw material babyleaf supply chains in Europe and manufacturers continue to refine these products (for example last year we introduced crates that stack to nearly double the traditional number for their return journeys back to Italy).

In terms of packaging on the shelf companies are also working hard to make sure as much of the packaging as possible is recyclable and that all the packaging used is as effective as possible in keeping the produce fresh. A survey by WRAP revealed that 61% of people think that packaging has a negative effect on produce shelf life – this is simply not true.

Salad is actually the product that shows the most marked difference with packaging – staying fresh for five times longer than if sold naked. Shelf life extension is vital to reducing food waste in the home so we do need this packaging, we just need to keep its impact minimal.

Companies are also working on energy consumption – Tesco (again!) have begun monitoring energy consumption in their stores in order to address consumption peaks. They aim to have CO2 emissions from their stores by 2020.

Food waste is a massive subject and a massive challenge but the food industry does seem to be rising to the challenge and squaring up to the innovation and fresh thinking needed to fix it.