Food waste measurement really counts

8 February 2018

I doubt many of us would just hand over our debit card at the register, enter the four-digit code, and then leave without first checking the bill. But that’s effectively what every food business that doesn’t measure its food waste is doing, every day.

For food businesses, measuring food waste can help save you money and keep operations efficient. But knowing how, where and even when to start can be daunting. So it’s good to see more getting the message that knowing how your numbers add up can help balance the books. And with a suite of new resources to help, it’s never been easier to get going.

Last week for example, Aldi pledged to reduce its operational waste across its UK and Ireland stores by 50%. While in the Republic of Ireland the Irish Food Waste Charter launched, with the support of Aldi, BWG Foods, Lidl, Musgraves and Tesco who will measure and report food waste to the Irish Government. Like our own UK Courtauld Commitment 2025, in fact.

The big number we’re all working towards is the 50% reduction in global food waste by 2030 – applying to retail and consumer stages as in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, or even more ambitiously across the whole food system as proposed by the Champions 12.3 Group. It’s a Herculean task and we all need to up our efforts, and act now. Because with UK food waste generating the same CO2 emissions as all the HGVs on our roads, its one problem we can’t just park.

Last year’s Champions 12.3 progress report showed global performance against this target. It found that while an increasing number of businesses are conscious of food waste as an issue, not enough were measuring their food waste. Without effective measurement it’s difficult to see how they’ll target, or tackle the problem. And it all adds up. UK supply chain food waste, from primary production and manufacture through retail and across the hospitality & food service sector, tops 5 million tonnes annually, costing £5 billion.

So why don’t more businesses measure what goes in the bin?

Well, until recently there was some ambiguity about what 12.3 covered – was it just households and retail, or broader? And confusion too from the many alternative definitions of “food waste” on the table. Add to this limited guidance on how to measure and you have enough barriers to put off even the most committed counter. But thankfully that’s changed.

WRAP and the IGD have produced three principles for food waste measurement.

We consulted with retailers, food manufacturers, those involved with primary production and the hospitality & food service sector to create a set of principles fit for UK business.

They have the backing of the IGD’s Industry Leaders Forum; the Policy Issues Council or PIC; which represents around 30 grocery business CEOs. The principles help companies manage the process of measuring, and demonstrate consistency of approach. They state;

1. Food waste measurement and reduction should focus on farm to fork, in pursuit of SDG Target 12.3.

2.  The framework of Target, Measure, Act represents the best way to make progress on food waste measurement and prevention.

3.  Consistent definitions of food, food waste and inedible parts, must be adopted by every organisation which commits to measure and reduce food waste.

Adopting a common approach is essential to making collective progress, and the international Food Loss & Waste Standard and Champions 12.3 ‘interpretation’ document make mapping global progress possible. But while having this global-view of how the problem is being addressed is important, having a set of principles and resources which every UK business can use is quite another. And for many the concern remained – how to begin?

To address this WRAP developed a vision for how this can happen. This recognises that while there are businesses leading the way in every sector – way ahead in measuring and reducing food waste in their own operations – many are at different stages of the ‘journey’, or yet to embark. The UK’s approach must recognise this. It must support those already on the journey and help those just beginning get a proper foothold.

WRAP and the IGD are collaborating to drive forward this vision by developing a Roadmap for widescale, consistent implementation of the three principles; which we’ll publish later in the year.

For now, we used our annual Courtauld 2025 summit to announce the principles, and launch the Food Waste Measurement Resources Guide which supports them, and which will help companies adopt them. Many of you joined us and have already explored the resources. If not, they cover themes such as putting together the business case; what and how to measure and case studies.

This joint work with the IGD integrates into our wider plan and we are already developing tailored, sector-specific guidance and tools, to help companies whatever stage they are at on the journey. The ‘Your Business is Food; don’t throw it away’ resources help identify food waste at a site level - within smaller businesses. It’s been running with the support of Courtauld 2025 engagement partners the British Hospitality AssociationThe Sustainable Restaurant Association and The Food & Drink Federation.

And while sector-specific support is important, we need to look at the junctions where different sectors cross too, and tackle the barriers that arise there, such as retailers asking for food waste data from their suppliers. That’s one area WRAP and IGD’s Roadmap will address.

There’s no doubt that measuring food waste gives valuable insights which businesses can use to be more competitive. It should sit beside other business strategies for continuous improvement; like monitoring yield, conversion factors, portion control, returns, mark downs or surplus food redistribution. You’ll know these numbers, I’m sure.

I’d even encourage more businesses to consider reporting publicly on their food waste too, and efforts to reduce it – or sharing their data in confidence through WRAP or a sector organisation, so that benchmarks can be established and progress tracked. As we’ve seen, this brings recognition to individual businesses, gives confidence to others to do the same, and proves that the UK food industry really ‘measures up’ to the challenge.

Because a fifty percent reduction is titanic task, and one we must shoulder, together.