Collaboration, commitment and courage. The ingredients we need to tackle food waste and achieve UNSDG 12.3.

12 March 2020

Our global food system is a story of both abundant success and dismal failure.

On one side booming crop production and year-round consumer choice. The other of failing harvests, hunger and waste. It’s a business model which no self-respecting CEO would tolerate.

The cost to people is enormous. Malnutrition is the biggest cause of ill-health in the world. According to the 2018 Global Nutrition Report, 150 million children under five have stunted growth. At the other end of the scale, obesity, with all its attendant health problems, is at an all-time high, with a staggering 38% of the population, from America to Africa, overweight or obese.

The cost to the planet is inescapable. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that food systems contribute up to 37% of global greenhouses gases, and to deforestation, biodiversity loss and declining water resources.

It’s unsustainable and unethical. And we could make a serious contribution to recalibrating it with one often under-appreciated strategy: tackling food waste.

I believe that the world is waking up to the environmental, economic and social effects of food waste.

Environmental because food loss and waste accounts for around 8% of annual greenhouse gases – six times greater than aviation emissions.

Economic because it is costing the global economy $940 billion every year in economic losses.

Social because it could be used to help feed the one in eight people who are going hungry in our planet and be a key strategy in the future challenge of feeding a growing population.

So, reversing those damaging impacts plays a significant role in addressing some of the flaws in our food system.

This is why reducing food waste must be:

  • A core strategy of every government for tackling climate change
  • A core commitment of every business
  • A core value of every family.

On 12.3 day, it is a good moment to reflect on how far we have come, and the road we still have left to travel. We have just ten short years to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 of halving food waste by 2030. And in some ways the toughest challenge lies ahead.

So, it is going to take collaboration, commitment and courage if we are to reach our goal.

We’ve shown through the Courtauld Commitment what can be accomplished through collaboration right across the supply chain. Since 2007 we have reduced food waste by 15%. The latest progress report, published earlier this year, was further testament to that success, showing a 400,000 tonne decrease in household food waste, a reduction of 7% in supply chain greenhouse gas emissions, and a doubling of the amount of good food diverted from waste to feed people in need.

The report demonstrates a tremendous achievement of which I am enormously proud. It puts us on track to meet our Courtauld targets and the UK’s commitment to achieving 12.3. And, with WRAP’s help it is inspiring similar models around the world. In Mexico, Canada, USA, South Africa, Mauritius, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, along with a number in Europe to name a few. This is a powerful movement for change.

But we cannot afford to take our foot of the pedal for one second.

We need commitment from countries to prioritising food waste. The last progress report from the powerhouse Champions 12.3 network, of which I am proud to be a member, revealed that the countries or regional blocs that have set targets aligned with SDG 12.3 cover around half of the world’s population. But countries representing only around 12% measure their food loss and waste. Many more will need to quantify and report if we are to achieve 12.3 on time.

And we need the same commitment from all of us in our own homes. This is still where the lion’s share of our waste comes from.

It’s complex and challenging. We are unravelling deeply embedded attitudes, misperceptions and misplaced fears. But I believe the battle can be won, and we can convert hearts and minds. That is why, in 2020, WRAP is stepping up the volume and action on food waste. And calling on everyone to do the same.

We need courage. Courage to take tough decisions and embed not wasting food in our cultures again. We need to have difficult conversations about our lifestyles and the choices we make – to change what we do every day to make the most of every morsel of food. The heads of governments and businesses need to hardwire waste reduction into their DNA. Even if that feels like swimming against the prevailing culture of choice, convenience and consumption which drives the food system. I am proud to be a member of the powerhouse which is the Champions 12.3 network and the leadership it is demonstrating in this.

We face a choice. We can carry on doing nothing. And accept the scandalous lack of stewardship of our global food system and the extent to which it fuels the problems we face with climate change and hunger.

Or we can see food as part of the solution. Harness its ability to nourish people and planet and fuel happy, healthy and prosperous societies. Tackling food waste is a key to unlocking that potential.