Food waste

8 November 2013

Article by Matthew McLeod and Chloe Corbyn, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image from Flickr by JBloom. Licensed under the Creative Commons

Image from Flickr by JBloom. Licensed under the Creative Commons

Recent figures published by Tesco show that they generated almost 30,000 tonnes of food in their stores across the UK in the first 6 months of this year. This, however, is just a small fraction of the estimated 15 million tonnes of food waste generated each year in the UK, approximately half of which is produced by households. Recent Welsh Government statistics show that around 400,000 tonnes of useable food and drink are wasted by Welsh households every year, equating to around £50 per month, per family on food that ends up in the bin. Not only is this a waste of money, but it also has environmental impacts, including the unnecessary production of greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming and climate change. Campaigns such as ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’, launched in 2007 aim to minimise food waste, and waste prevention is high on the agenda at the EU, UK and Wales levels.

Food waste by supermarkets is a hot topic, with green campaigners claiming that the UK’s major supermarkets, which generate an estimated 300,000 tonnes of waste every year, are failing to produce detailed figures on the scale of their waste. And with news reports highlighting the increasing reliance on food banks (some estimating that around half a million people now make use of them in the UK) there seems to be an increasing disconnect between waste food and need.

The Food Standards Act 1999 and The Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006 are just a couple of examples of the laws and regulations that govern the food industry. The Food Standards Agency say that supermarkets are able to donate surplus food, and the same legislation and liability applies whether food is given away or sold by the retailer. It outlines two key aspects to be considered: Is the food fit for human consumption? Is the food free from any contamination? At present there doesn’t seem to be any guidance on supermarkets donating food, but Government organisations such as the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) are proactively involved in trying to encourage more sustainable behaviours, such as the donation of surplus food rather than it going to waste.

Wales already leads the UK in some areas of waste policy, for example in 2011 becoming the first UK country to introduce charges for single use carrier bags, and the recently published Environment Bill White Paper suggesting that these minimum charges could be extended to include bags for life. This research note describes the scale of food waste across the UK and where it arises from as well as some of the policy measures aimed at reducing and reusing food waste that have been introduced in Wales, other devolved administrations and the UK.

Read the new Research Service publication on food waste here.