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As a child, my parents and grandparents used to recite “waste not want not” at every meal and it resonates with me as I reflect on the true impact of food waste reduction.

I recently read an article encouraging people to eat more steak, cheese & chips. With all the panic buying in March due to current COVID-19 pandemic, food producers are now needing people to restock. 

The impact of food waste and how to reduce it

These areas have strangely seen the lowest demand. Belgium, famous for its frites, is expected to see a possible loss of £111m if thousands of tonnes of surplus potatoes go unsold, France has seen a 60% sales decrease in cheese since the pandemic and here in the UK, we’re being encouraged to eat more steak because expensive cuts of meat normally used in restaurants are going unsold.

 “Food waste” and “food loss” are commonly used terms but don't quite mean the same thing.

  • Food loss typically refers to food lost in earlier stages of production such as harvest, lack of proper infrastructure, poor practices storage and transportation. 26% of global carbon emissions from farm to fork. When a third of that food is discarded, 8% of global carbon emissions are directly associated with the food waste in our food system.
  • Food waste refers to items that are fit for human consumption but thrown away, discarded by consumers after they fail to plan their meals properly and store food until it spoils or goes past the expiry date. Not wasting good food and drink would have the same positive environmental impact as taking one in four cars off UK roads.

Personally, food waste is something I’ve been guilty of in the past until I signed up for HelloFresh (the fresh ingredients delivery service) last year. It’s reduced the food waste in my house by 80%.  

And it’s transformed our lives – bold statement but it’s true.  Meals planned for you so no need to get creative with what’s left in your cupboard and fresh ingredients. Plus, and more importantly the correct & measured amount of ingredients delivered to your door. 

What’s not to love?

Food waste and loss is affecting our environment - producing, moving, storing and cooking food uses energy, fuel and water. Each of which let off greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

It's also worth considering the amount of land required to produce food and drink. The estimated area of land required to produce food thrown away by UK households is 19,000 square kilometres.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes per year.  

In the UK alone, more than 10 million tonnes of food is wasted from farm to fork, worth over £20 billion a year.

The statistics taken from the FAO food waste report are quite astounding.

  • The global volume of food wastage is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes of "primary product equivalents." Total food wastage for the edible part of this amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes.
  • Food wastage's carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG released into the atmosphere per year.
  • The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted (250km3) is equivalent to the annual flow of Russia's Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva.
  • Similarly, 1.4 billion hectares of land - 28% of the world's agricultural area - is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.
  • A low percentage of all food wastage is composted: much of it ends up in landfills and represents a large part of municipal solid waste. Methane emissions from landfills represents one of the largest sources of GHG emissions from the waste sector.

How can we change this?

WRAP (Waste and resources action programme) & the Courtauld Commitment 2025

What is Courtauld 2025?

This voluntary agreement between WRAP & Courtauld brings together organisations across the food system to make food and drink production and consumption more sustainable.

At its heart is a 10-year commitment to identify priorities, develop solutions and implement changes to cut the carbon, water and waste associated with food & drink by at least one-fifth in 10 years.

Under a three pillars strategy of target, measure and act. There's a call to action for leading food businesses to set a waste reduction target in their UK operations. Measure in a consistent way and act to reduce food waste in turn helping consumers reduce their own food waste.

WRAP is using a 5-5-5 approach to help in maximising waste reduction. Providing businesses with 5 actions to take, 5 key areas to target and 5 key stages to follow to reduce the environmental impact.

Interestingly, number one on the five key areas to target is to improve systems and processes. 

It’s not always easy to understand exactly how much waste you are producing and what the true cost of waste is – many companies significantly underestimate this cost. In the UK, the typical cost of waste is between 4% and 5% of company turnover but can be as high as 10% in some cases but there is undeniably a cost benefit to reducing your food loss or waste.

How can technology help?

Rethinking your production processes and by utilising by-products into other markets (for example pet food in meats or surplus bread for brewing) will improve your supply chain and make it more resilient.  Management of promotions to flex your production inline with ordering patterns and effective production planning to reduce discrepancies and overordering.

Systematically capturing information in your supply chain and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems to develop insights into your waste reduction via operational analysis using PowerBI, identifies each stage of the operation to identify waste or loss. 

Regularly monitor trigger points and operating data in almost real-time to quickly determine the right course of action is crucial. 

Packing and labels ensure potential causes of food waste. One recommendation is removing ‘best before’ dates from uncut fresh produce where this doesn’t risk increasing food waste allowing the consumer to use their judgement and consume a product rather than throw it away.

In the food and grocery industry, introducing smart technologies across the food supply chain, for example IoT (internet of things) is being investigated. This improves not only supply chain performance, profit margins and tracking food freshness therefore predicting and avoiding the spoilage of perishable foods.  

How can we work together to minimise food waste and food loss?

Two words: Digital transformation. Changing consumer trends, regulations and costs mean that food and beverage businesses need to do more than adapt. They need to transform. 

How should the food and beverage industry digitally transform?

Digital transformation isn't simple. There are various considerations to keep in mind, from the right technology to adopt to best practices and the right digital strategy to have in place. We've got an industry report that might help. 

Download it below and discover the steps your business should be taking to digitally transform.

Download the free report


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