Food for thought

Published on Thursday, 25 March 2010 00:00
Written by Roger Williams MP

 Recent figures uncovered by the Liberal Democrats showed that in 2008 the total amount of domestic food waste was 6.7 million tonnes. This year that figure has climbed to 8.3 million tonnes, an estimated two thirds of which was perfectly edible.


Waste on this sort of scale beggars belief. Worth a whopping £12 billion, it's the equivalent of £480 per household, rising to £680 for a household with children.

Only the likes of investment bankers could possibly afford to set fire to £500 of their own money every year - but that is effectively what every UK household does through wasting so much food.

With food waste from businesses at a similar level - particularly in the catering and retail sectors - it's clear we face a serious problem. But what's gone wrong and what can we do about it?

Part of the problem is that the Government has not done enough to put pressure on retailers in setting tough targets to cut waste.

The Government attempted to tackle this problem by setting up its Waste Resources Action Programme in 2005 to encourage supermarkets to reduce food waste. However, it didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts when the Sustainable Development Commission immediately condemned WRAP's targets as ‘unambitious and lacking urgency', a prescient assessment.

Later in a remarkable act of sabotage, WRAP saw its public funding slashed by almost half, from £71.6 million in 2005/06 to £43.2 million in 2008/09.

We need to do much better.

For a start, the Lib Dems have proposed an Anti-Waste & Resource Efficiency Act which would see binding targets for reducing consumption to help people get the most from the food they buy

And following our suggestions, the Government recently suggested banning food waste from landfill. Uneaten food would instead be composted or used to make energy through anaerobic digestion, which the National Grid estimates could meet 50% of our residential gas needs in the long run.

Meanwhile, we want to see supermarkets scrap BOGOF deals on perishable items, using the savings to cut prices across the board. This would help make the weekly shop cheaper and prevent needless waste.

While the Government claims to be concerned about food security it is seemingly unable to reduce food waste, yet the two go hand in hand.

There is undoubtedly a role for individuals, organisations and local authorities in tackling avoidable food waste, but the main thrust must come from central government.

The steps outlined above are relatively simple things to do, yet they could herald a revolution in moving to a zero-waste culture.

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