We're one of Europe's largest wasters of food in Europe, with households throwing away 4.5m tonnes of edible food each year worth £3.5bn. It's a waste of money when household budgets are tight and the price of food, costs for businesses and councils are rising too. Wasting less food by delivering our Environment Act commitments can put money back into people's pockets while helping the environment.
A big source of avoidable waste is large food retailers. They could give this food to people and community groups who need it rather than throwing it away. There are already some fantastic corporate partnerships between redistribution charities, such as The Felix Project and The Trussell Trust, and these food retailers. I have seen good work on this at a local level with the Eastbourne Food Partnership, but huge amounts of food still end up in the bin. The government should introduce mandatory food waste reporting by supermarkets and other big retailers to drive improvements in food redistribution.
According to Henry Dimbleby's National Food Strategy, commissioned by the government, a third of the food that goes to waste in the United Kingdom occurs before it has left the farm. As a recent episode of Clarkson's Farm highlighted, wonky fruit and vegetables taste just as good as their perfect counterparts. Yet, strict cosmetic requirements prevent wonky produce from reaching the supermarket. If fortunate enough to make it to the shop floor, wonky vegetables are usually sold at a steep discount, even though the land, resources and effort a farmer puts into growing this produce are the same. This is unnecessarily wasteful.
A growing number of British businesses are turning supermarket rejects into delicious, exciting new products. OddBox is rescuing this would-otherwise-be-wasted produce and selling it as a grocery delivery service. Rubies in the Rubble is turning surplus food into chutney and sauces. Drinks company Flawsome! is developing unique and exciting drinks products using wonky fruit. Ironically, supermarkets are lining up to line their shelves with these innovative, upcycled products.
British businesses are demonstrating the ingenuity required to turn food waste into meals. There is more the government can do to support them. Current subsidies for anaerobic digestion facilities result in some edible food perversely being sent to be made into biogas rather than a nutritious dinner. As the government's food waste champion Ben Elliot argued, the government should review these incentives to ensure more food is redistributed, with only unavoidable waste being used for energy and fertiliser production.
Of course, not all food waste is edible. Businesses are now looking at how they can convert this waste stream into valuable products. For example, whether it can be used to create sustainable alternatives to peat for the horticulture industry or bioplastics for packaging.
The government can support this innovation by delivering the requirement in the Environment Act for all local authorities in England to arrange for a separate, weekly collection of food waste for recycling. Just under half of councils do not currently collect food waste. The government should provide support to local authorities to make this waste stream readily available for businesses wanting to create sustainable products.
The government needs to set clear rules on what can be included in the food waste collection and ensure products are labelled accordingly. Plastic bin liners create costs for local authorities who must remove them. If plastic makes it through this stage, the digestate produced risks being contaminated by microplastics which will leach into our soil when applied to agricultural land as fertiliser. With many compostable options available, plastic should play no role in this process.
Food waste is bad for the bottom line of companies and households alike. Recognising the opportunity created by this problem, businesses across the country are starting to devise innovative products and services to tackle edible and inedible food waste.
The government should use our landmark Environment Act to support this ingenuity. A successful and smart rollout of household food waste collection is a great place to start.
First published by Politics Home. Caroline Ansell MP (Eastbourne) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.