Food Waste Action Week should look beyond households

“Win. Don’t bin” – that is the theme of this year’s Food Waste Action Week, run by government-funded body WRAP and its daughter campaign Love Food, Hate Waste.

It follows the usual trend of food waste campaigns putting most of the onus on households and individuals to reduce their waste. In comparison, my preferred alternative “Report. Don’t distort” signals that businesses should start sharing this responsibility and declare how much food they waste they throughout the supply chain, including on farms.

At the moment, there is no legal mandate for businesses to report their waste. This lack of data distorts our food waste statistics, and results in the much-repeated claim that 70% of food waste comes from households. But this statistic doesn’t stack up for three key reasons.

The food waste statistics currently used
  1. This number excludes food waste on farms. Cosmetic standards alone are making farmers discard about 30% of their harvests, incited by unrealistic standards imposed by businesses like supermarkets. Currently, farm-level food waste is completely excluded from national data. Without it, numbers are distorted and skewed towards consumers.
  2. Food businesses are not legally required to publish how much food they waste, so the amount of food wasted by retailers, manufacturers and distributers is likely to be much higher than reported. This again distorts our national data and skews the numbers towards consumers.
  3. The 70% moreover does not accurately portray the conditions which create waste in households. Supermarkets have proven tactics to make us buy more than we need; food charity Feedback estimates that Tesco profits £4bn a year from the food wasted by their customers. “Sell by” and “best before” dates encourage us to throw out perfectly good food, with a third of waste occurring because of confusing labels.

Over summer 2022, the government finally consulted on making big businesses report on the food waste in their supply chains. The consultation wasn’t perfect but it was a great opportunity to start holding businesses to account and to report, not distort, food waste data. However, it closed in September and the government has still not published its response or next steps.

Studies continually show that education and awareness campaigns like “Win. Don’t bin” only make a small dent in food waste reduction (as I mention in this article). We need to do more, and I hope WRAP decides to look beyond households next year.

Published by foodwastestories

The first food waste magazine.

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