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Food Waste

Volume 777: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further steps they plan to take to reduce the amount of food waste produced by consumers and by the retail and hospitality sectors.

My Lords, Courtauld 2025 brings together all parts of the food system to reduce food waste, from farmer to producer and from retailer to consumer. It goes further than before, with targets to be reached by 2025 including a 20% reduction in UK food and drink waste. WRAP has established industry-led working groups to address key issues including reducing waste from fresh produce, meat protein, dairy, and the hospitality and food sector, and increasing surplus food redistribution.

I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that, despite our best efforts, the level of household food waste being recycled has stalled, that less than 50% of local authorities collect food waste separately and that food manufacturers are continuing to send an unacceptably high level of food waste to landfill. In these circumstances, does it not make sense for the Government to stop relying purely on voluntary agreements—although they have their place—and to introduce mandatory food waste reduction targets in England across the supply chain? This approach has already worked and made a significant difference in Scotland, Wales and many European countries. Is it not time that we took similar robust action in England?

My Lords, the Courtauld Commitment 2025 is a very positive step. In the UK each year, there are 10 million tonnes of food and drink waste, around 70% of which is from households, and 1.9 million tonnes of food waste from households goes to landfill, compared with 2,000 tonnes from manufacturing. We need to work with WRAP and with industry and consumers to remedy this unacceptable situation. WRAP’s Love Food, Hate Waste campaign is directed towards consumers and is a key priority.

My Lords, my wife is a trustee of the Oxford food bank, which collects fresh food from wholesalers and retailers 365 days a year to distribute to local charities. Is the Minister aware that many of the supermarkets in Oxford are reluctant to provide food to the Oxford food bank? Instead they send it to landfill as waste, simply because it is too much trouble to hand it over to the army of volunteers who would like to come and collect it. Is there anything that the Government could do to encourage supermarkets to help organisations such as the Oxford food bank?

My Lords, the first thing I would say is that I very much appreciate the valuable work that FareShare, Company Shop and the Oxford food bank are doing. It is absolutely essential that good surplus food does not go to waste but is directed in the waste hierarchy first for human consumption and then, if it is not fit for that, for animal consumption. The waste hierarchy is very important. I will take up the Oxford issue, because 95% of all supermarkets are engaged in the Courtauld Commitment, and part of that is precisely directed to the redistribution of food.

My Lords, what is the annual cost to families of wasting food, and what are the environmental emission consequences of food wastage?

My Lords, the cost of what is wasted is £470 a year for the average household, and £700 a year for the average household with children. In turn, avoidable food waste is the equivalent of the CO2 emissions produced by over 7 million cars per year.

My Lords, the results of the third phase of the voluntary Courtauld Commitment with business are due imminently. Are the Government considering asking WRAP to publish company names, or to legislate, if reductions in food waste are not secured?

My Lords, the results are not published yet but I will look at that third phase. The Courtauld Commitment 2025 is already even more robust, so I am looking for progress and I shall be working with colleagues to ensure that that is the case.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a board member of WRAP. How might the Government’s forthcoming 25-year environment plan and 25-year food and farming plan help to promote further action to reduce food waste?

My Lords, my noble friend is right that the 25-year environment plan provides an opportunity. The first phase of that will be public consultation, and I am very much looking forward to observations and so forth. Dealing with the food waste issue must be part of our long-term vision of a better environment.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a significant cause of food waste is the overcautious use of sell-by and best-before dates? Does the scheme he has referred to include a review of how such dates are used? Frequently, common sense will tell you that something with a short date has potentially much more life in it than you are allowed to give it.

I very much sympathise with the noble Baroness. That is certainly part of WRAP’s work; indeed, it has already been part of clarifying date-labelling, for precisely the reasons the noble Baroness has outlined.

My Lords, does the Minister realise that 100 years ago, most food waste was fed to pigs? Now, millions of tonnes of food that is suitable for humans one day is regarded as unsuitable for pigs the next. This is a natural and sensibly environmental way of using up food waste, other than where it can be used for human consumption. Will he look into the regulations that prevent food waste being fed to pigs, the natural and sensible outlet?

My Lords, there are difficulties with that, I am afraid, precisely because of what happened in 2001 and so forth. I will have to disappoint my noble friend.