Waste Not
WRAP Breaks Down Food Waste in UK Grocery Supply Chain, Finds Millions in Potential Savings

The most in-depth examination of the grocery supply chain in the United Kingdom was released yesterday by the waste reduction experts at WRAP. The organization estimates that 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted by UK grocery retailers and food manufacturers every year, and for the first time, broke down the overall avoidable food waste figures into manufacturing sub-sectors such as meat and dairy. According to the report, action to increase prevention of food waste could save businesses £300 million a year.

The report, Quantification of food surplus, waste and related materials in the grocery supply chain, explains that 1.7 million tonnes of food waste arises during manufacture and 210,000 tonnes arise during retail. These revised estimates for the total food waste in UK manufacture is significantly lower than previously estimated (3.9 million tonnes in 2011), in part due to improved understanding of the different waste streams and in part due to efforts made by companies to reduce waste generation.

“[The] report, which uses new and more robust methodologies, gives us the clearest indication yet of where, and why, food surpluses and waste occur,” said Dr. Richard Swannell, Director at WRAP. “Through a combination of prevention, redistribution to people and diversion to animal feed, the grocery supply chain could, in the next 10 years, almost halve its avoidable food waste, from 2009 when we first started work in this area. This will significantly contribute to delivering the Courtauld 2025 food waste prevention target.”

WRAP acknowledges that the food manufacturing and retail sectors in the UK are highly efficient – with less than 5 percent food surplus and waste – and that good progress has been made in reducing food waste. For example, retailers and manufacturers have ensured more food surplus is being made available for redistribution. Signatories of the Courtauld Commitment – which aims to reduce food and drink waste arising in the UK by 20 percent by 2025 – have reported a 74 percent increase in the amounts being redistributed between 2012 and 2014.

At the same time, WRAP was able to identify a further 450,000 tonnes of food waste that could be prevented annually by 2025 – a reduction of 23 percent compared to the current total food waste levels. Around 270,000 tonnes of the current surplus and waste may be suitable for redistribution; even after efforts to prevent food waste arising in the supply chain, redistribution could still be increased to the equivalent of “at least” 360 million meals, and the amount diverted to animal feed could also increase by up to 20 percent. Of course, there are inherent challenges in increasing redistribution and diversion to this extent, which WRAP explores in the report.

“More than 450 food companies already work in partnership with FareShare to redistribute surplus food to the people who need it most. Yet only about 10,000 tonnes of surplus food is currently redistributed to charities each year, so there’s clearly huge potential to do more,” said FareShare CEO Lindsay Boswell.

“Some food businesses may be unsure about the types of surplus food they can redistribute or feel daunted about the process, but FareShare will work with them to make it as easy and cost-effective as possible to identify and redistribute their good, surplus food to the people who need it most.”

Building on WRAP’s Framework for Effective Redistribution Partnerships, which helps people to set up redistribution arrangements such as those with FareShare, WRAP also released yesterday Guidance for Food and Drink Manufacturers and Retailers on the Use of Food Surplus as Animal Feed. The new Guidance is intended to help identify, manage and divert food surplus to animal feed in line with relevant legislation.

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