Tim Burns

An eating better challenge for Tesco

By : Tim Burns
Nov 7, 2013

Tim Burns of Waste Watch reports on the latest food waste figures and why efforts to cut waste need to go beyond information campaigns to include less and better eating.

Today the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) released updated household food and drink waste figures for the UK. It showed an impressive decline and avoidable food and drink waste has reduced by 1.1 million tonnes (21%) from 5.3 million tonnes to 4.2 million tonnes since 2007. However six meals each week or 20% of food bought into the home are still wasted. Also concerning, the rate of reduction of food waste has slowed.

The food system has one of the biggest environmental impacts of any sector. It uses 70% of global freshwater, takes up most of the available land on our planet, whilst producing around 20% of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

When up to 1/3rd of food is wasted globally, up to 1/3rd of these valuable finite resources are wasted needlessly.

The supermarkets in the UK as a result of their size have often been seen as the bad buys in the fight to reduce food waste. But supermarkets are not going to just disappear and therefore must also be part of the solution.

In order to identify a problem you need to start by measuring it. This has been done for the last few years behind closed doors through the Courtauld Commitment. Targets through this however have declined in ambition and Waste Watch (part of Keep Britain Tidy) alongside other organisations – especially Feeding the 5,000 who lead the charge – have called for retailers to independently audit their food waste figures and publish the results publically. Tesco last week contributed a positive first step to the issue of food waste by doing just this. But apart from a high amount of food waste, especially all those bagged salads, what do the findings mean?

For us the answer lies in both where the waste is produced and whose responsibility is it? Tesco wastes 28,000 tonnes of food each year. By comparison households waste almost 7m tonnes of which 5.4m tonnes is potentially avoidable. Tesco and other supermarkets and food manufacturers helped transform the food system to what we have today – yes customers have helped in their demand for cheap food and choice but much of the driving force lies in the supply chain. Thankfully Tesco and others appear to realise that their responsibility is beyond their own operations although at present corresponding action to change behaviours in the home tend to be limited to information, such as online recipes or food waste hints and tips.

We know from looking at other initiatives like the government’s 5-a-day campaign that information alone does not work – ever since the recession fruit and veg consumption has been declining. If supermarkets are going to get serious about reducing the waste their customers produce we need innovative solutions – ones that start to transform businesses models and reshape the relationship between supermarket and customers and ones that are effective beyond the current economic climate.

Households in the UK waste approximately £12.5bn of food. If everyone tomorrow stopped wasting this food it would account for conceivably £12.5bn of less income for the food system including retailers. This is a fundamental challenge for supermarkets and government if they are serious about food waste.

One solution is to sell better quality produce that we waste less of or in other words helping people to eat better. This is our role in the Eating Better Alliance – how do we reduce waste by valuing and spending a little more on better quality fruit and veg, meat and other foods that help to enable people to eat a diet better for our health and the planet.

Our challenge to Tesco and others is to build brand trust from customers by measuring and acting transparently on food waste by enabling better behaviours in the household that also change shopping habits in the supermarket. We want reducing food waste to be something that supermarkets truly compete over in the same way as fair-trade products or animal welfare. We want to set a path towards 2030 whereby reducing food waste and eating better will replace cheap food and consumer choice as the central tenant of all high street retailers.

This would go a long way towards reducing the environmental challenges that many supermarkets are acutely aware of. This is our challenge to Tesco and other retailers – value for money is lost when food is wasted and more help must be provided to help customers eat better by reducing their waste and selling better food. We believe it can be achieved and the opportunity is now.

Tim Burns is Head of Waste Watch (part of Keep Britain Tidy)


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