UK Food Waste Targets and the Importance of Separate Collections

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The UK wastes an annual 9.52m tonnes of food

Incorporated as part of the United Nations’ (UN) sustainable development goals, the UK Government has announced commitments to halving the country’s food waste by 2030. As part of their overall strategy, the separate collection of food waste and treatment at specialist facilities enables the generation of valuable resources, such as compost and green energy, while supporting a system in-line with circularity principles.

The following article will explore how the severity of our food waste problem has brought about requirements for the UK’s 2030 targets, exploring a number of initiatives and strategies designed and operated to provide crucial assistance, as well as exploring the significance of separate food waste collections.

Statistics in Focus

At present, the UK’s annual food waste is a massive 9.52m tonnes, highlighting the severity of this significant issue. Around 3m tonnes of that amount is still considered to be edible. Broken down by sector, this overall amount is comprised of:

25% of food waste is from agriculture

What’s more concerning is that these extensive figures exclude food waste accumulated at the farming stage, and the significant environmental impact that carries. In the WWF’s Hidden Waste Report published in 2022, statistics show that 25% of UK food waste occurs on farms. At around 3.3m tonnes, this is more than the retail, manufacturing, and hospitality and food services combined, and indicating that the overall amount of UK food waste totals 12.8m tonnes.

With 17.7% of UK households struggling with food-insecurity as of 2023, these statistics ultimately raise serious ethical concerns, not to mention the consequential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by food waste sent to landfill. In their Food Surplus and Waste in the UK report published in January 2020, Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimated that this waste would be associated with more than 25m tonnes of GHG emissions.

On a more positive note, however, WRAP stated in their report that around 700,000 tonnes of food surplus from manufacturing, retail and hospitality and food services is either redistributed via charitable and commercial routes, or diverted to produce animal feed. WRAP also concluded in its report that the UK is currently on a trajectory to meet the Government’s 2030 target of halving the UK’s annual food waste.

Agenda for Sustainable Development

The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UK and all other Member States of the UN in 2015, comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of a global partnership, enabling strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and encourage economic growth, as well as combating climate change and working to ensure the preservation of our oceans and forests.

SDGs are integral for forest preservation

Tackling global food waste is a major aspect of these SDGs. The UN estimates that food waste collectively accumulated from households, retail establishments and the food service industry worldwide totalled 931m tonnes in 2019. The UK Government’s commitment to halving the country’s food waste by 2030 is ultimately incorporated as part of this, and there have been calls to introduce statutory regulations to help achieve this target, rather than relying on the voluntary agreements currently in place.

Resources and Waste Strategy

As part of the UK Government’s efforts to tackle food waste, The Resources and Waste Strategy, published in December 2018, outlines larger steps they are taking to preserve material resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards a circular economy, with the longer-term policy direction in-line with their 25 Year Environment Plan.

Included in the strategy to help reach the 2030 target are:

Current Progress and Initiatives

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced the £15m pilot scheme in October 2018, distributing £4m in the first round of funding to 4 organisations to help them to redistribute surplus good-to-eat food, with the next round of funding intended to focus on improving infrastructure for companies that operate with these intentions.

Established by WRAP and supported by the UK Government, The Courtauld Commitment 2030, is a voluntary agreement between organisations involved in the food system. It aims to cut carbon emissions, protect vital water resources, and reduce per capita food waste by 2030. Specifically, their targets include:

WRAP published a Progress and Insights Report in 2022, setting the achievements they have made across the food and drink sector. They have so far achieved a 12% reduction in emissions associated with food and drink consumption in the UK. In addition the development of their Water Roadmap has secured commitment from more than 50 leading food and drink companies in the UK, with 7 collective action projects currently underway.

In terms of reducing food waste, 300 businesses have committed to their Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, including all major UK grocery retailers.

Separate Collections and Treatment

A recent consultation on recycling consistency by Defra found that kerbside collection would increase the amount of food waste collected by 1.35m tonnes by 2029, with GHG emissions reduced by an estimated 1.25 million tonnes per year. While collecting more food waste might not necessarily provide a direct pathway towards reducing the overall amount accumulated on an annual basis, it nonetheless provides a vital resource for implementing a more sustainable means of waste management, while helping to reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfill.

AD plants turn food waste into energy

An aspect of the Resources and Waste Strategy is the use of Anaerobic Digester (AD) plants, which treat and process collected food waste in order to generate low carbon, renewable energy and digestate, which can then be used as fertiliser and compost. Defra has stated that “AD plants represent the best environmental outcome for food waste that cannot be prevented”, with the potential to deliver a 6% cut in the UK’s GHG emissions.

As part of the Environment Bill 2021, Defra has announced that all food waste will be collected separately by 2023 for households, businesses and organisations, as part of mandatory changes. £295m of funding is set to be distributed to enable local authorities to implement these changes, with plans to establish a framework to help areas where extra support is required.

Food Waste Solutions for Communal Environments

In regard to this aspect of extra support, enabling increased collections and better separation of food waste at the point of disposal are two key aspects that merit integration into any framework . It’s also vital to consider the logistical issues that can be posed for local authorities by communal buildings and flatted accommodation, in regard to providing separate food waste collections on a weekly basis. For those without quick and easy access to a kerbside service, providing individual waste caddies typically represents an impractical option.

FX Food waste bin housing
FX-FP with foot-pedal operated lid system

The other significant hindrance is encouraging these residents, who often already encounter numerous daily obstacles, to take the time to separate their food waste before placing it into an appropriate container without the presence of contaminants. The development of anaerobic conditions can also lead to issues with cleanliness and hygiene, which in itself can become an obstacle that can prevent use.

With this issue in mind, metroSTOR FX Food Waste Bin Housings have been designed to provide an effective, purpose-built solution, assisting local authorities in prioritising the separate collection of food waste for households with access restrictions. Designed to both enable ease of use and ensure the food waste container is kept enclosed, options for hands-free operation can help increase participation by removing requirements to handle bin lids, as well as providing aperture restrictions to prevent household refuse being placed in the food waste bin.

Case Studies

Re-London, a partnership between the Mayor of London and London’s boroughs to improve waste and resource management in the capital, recently published a report of their Flats 2.0 research project, completed in partnership with housing association Peabody and the London Borough of Lambeth. As part of the project, 35 metroSTOR FX units were introduced across 4 housing estates in the London Borough of Lambeth as part of efforts to both increase resident participation in recycling, and reduce the accumulation of food waste at landfill sites. Operating across a 13-month pilot scheme, results saw an average 152% increase in recycling rates, alongside a hugely significant 45% reduction in food waste within the residual waste stream.

metroSTOR units simplify food waste collection

Dedicated food waste units can also be implemented as part of a wider approach to waste management that seeks to improve the separation of recyclables. One of the many London Boroughs taking action to fight climate change, Brent Council’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Delivery Plan is part of city-wide targets to cut food waste by 50% per person and achieve 65% municipal waste recycling by the year 2030.

Seeking to enhance waste and recycling collection and infrastructure across the Borough, with particular focus on for residents living in communal environments, Brent Council worked closely with metroSTOR to develop the sustainability of the waste management system, integrating waste & recycling units and food waste bins in 3 locations across the South Kilburn Housing Estate, replacing the previous communal bin stores, which were often overflowing bins and exposed to contamination. These efforts are part of wider ambitions from Brent Council to develop a Borough-wide Environmental Network.

Final Thoughts

The UK faces a pressing food waste problem, contributing to significant environmental concerns and food insecurity. The UK Government has set ambitious targets to halve food waste by 2030, establishing multi-faceted strategies and distributing funding to various initiatives to address the issue, in addition to working with local authorities to implement separate food waste collections to reduce landfill waste and generate valuable, renewable resources.

Ultimately, the UK’s commitment to reducing food waste aligns with international efforts from the UN to address climate change, reduce inequality, and promote resource efficiency, demonstrating its dedication to a more sustainable and responsible future.