Ben Elliot: 'Stepping up our efforts to reduce food waste'

An open letter from Ben Elliot, the Food Surplus and Waste Champion for Defra, to UK food manufacturers, major retailers, hospitality businesses and redistribution organisations on how we can ensure that no good food goes to waste as lockdown restrictions ease.

'In April I wrote to food businesses and redistribution organisations thanking them for the incredible job they were doing in keeping the supply of food going across the country, especially to the vulnerable, during this challenging time. I wanted to stress that in such exceptional times it is even more important that good food does not go to waste but is redistributed to those who need it.

'The response has been magnificent, with redistributors reporting huge increases in the amount of food being donated from food operations across the supply chain. I’m also pleased that government has risen to the challenge, with more than £2 million already awarded to redistribution not-for-profits under the COVID-19 Emergency Surplus Food Grant, funded by Defra and managed by WRAP. But there is so much more we all must do to maximise redistribution and stop food waste more broadly. 

'As a nation, we have committed to halving the amount of food wasted by 2030 as our part in the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve global food waste. Making this happen is critical to ensuring our businesses are as competitive as they can be, and that our citizens aren’t wasting their hard-earned money on buying food that is then thrown away. Of course, it isn’t just about making the commercial case, as important as that is. Reducing food waste is an environmental imperative – avoiding the waste of resources, energy and water used to produce that food, and helping us to achieve our Net Zero targets. And that isn’t to mention the love, care and passion we all share for the food we grow, produce, sell and serve – to see a lot of this end up in the bin is just wrong.

'This Autumn, WRAP will report on progress against the commitments made by the food sector under the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap and the Courtauld Commitment 2025. Ahead of this I ask you all to:

'Identify and challenge any surplus food that you are not redistributing to people. Maintain a focus on identifying any surplus food that is not already being redistributed, and removing unnecessary constraints within your own organisations, on suppliers or partners. UK governments have allocated millions of pounds to redistribution organisations to increase their capabilities and capacity1, and to develop innovative ways to handle harder-to-reach surplus food. Updated guidance from WRAP, Defra and the Food Standards Agency shows what more can and must be done to stop good food from going to waste – including food past a ‘Best Before’ date, and food approaching a ‘Use By’ date which can be frozen and re-labelled. I would ask that you explicitly encourage those within your own organisations, supply chains, and networks to work with redistributors to achieve this – and refer to this guidance.

'Proactively support WRAP’s campaigns to reduce citizens food waste. 70% of food waste happens in the home, and our collective targets cannot be delivered without continued and sustained support to citizens. WRAP’s research found that whilst citizens reported wasting less food in the early stages of lockdown, there is a real risk of food waste increasing again as normality returns. We know that people are concerned about wasting food, that their intentions are good and that Love Food Hate Waste resources are very effective2. But we need these messages to be amplified significantly to reach more citizens more often, and create lasting change. Love Food Hate Waste will launch a new campaign in August called ‘Keep Crushing It’ that will bring home the connection between wasting food and climate change. Food businesses (and others) need to actively participate in this if it is to be the success we need it to be. Further campaigns are planned for later in the year, as well as a week of action in early 2021. We need your marketing and communications teams to get in touch with WRAP to discuss how you can get involved and spread the message to your customers and staff.

'Commit to the UK Food Waste Reduction Roadmap. If you have not yet committed to the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap then contact WRAP in order to do so, and find out what free support is available to help you. The Roadmap helps businesses take targeted action to reduce food waste in their own operations, their supply chain and from consumers, and we need all large food businesses to make this commitment. Have you? 

'Submit your food surplus and waste data to WRAP. If you have committed to the Roadmap, and are implementing the ‘Target, Measure, Act’ strategy within your business, then please share that evidence and data with WRAP by the end of August at the latest. It is important to me that we showcase the progress businesses are making in tackling food waste. WRAP will publish and promote the UK’s Roadmap achievements in September as part of an international communication of global progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. I would urge you to grab this opportunity to be recognised for your achievements.

'Join the ‘Guardians of Grub: Becoming a Champion’ pilot learning programme. I recognise that this is a particularly challenging time for those of you working in the Hospitality and Food Service sector, but keeping track of food waste and cutting this down to save costs is even more critical in the current environment. Building on the successful launch of Guardians of Grub at my Step Up To The Plate event last May, WRAP is developing a brand new online learning course for minimising the amount of valuable food thrown away, as well as demonstrating your dedication to feeding people, not bins. This is a unique opportunity to help us shape the course before it is rolled out across the sector. Find out more in the latest Guardians of Grub e-newsletter, or if you’re ready to join now email the Guardians of Grub directly. 

'I am personally determined to do all that I can to ensure we are on track to deliver against our ambitious targets, and I ask that you share this commitment by engaging with the above. Please do get in touch with colleagues at Defra and WRAP, or myself directly, if you have any questions. 

Yours

Ben Elliot (Defra Food Surplus and Waste Champion)'

 

1. For example the COVID-19 Emergency Surplus Food Grant.
2. See for example WRAP’s latest citizen research.