What Factors Lead to Food Waste?

In the wake of news that UK families throw away an equivalent of six meals per week, the issue of food waste has once again found itself in the spotlight. But it is not just households that have a problem to tackle, explains Paul Featherstone, group director of SugaRich. A report published by WRAP this month, highlighted that food wastefulness in UK homes is costing the country a staggering £12.5 billion a year. Whilst progress has been made since 2007 – with the level of avoidable food waste improving by 21% – 4.2 million tonnes of edible food is still being thrown away. It has been suggested that excess buying, portion over-estimation and inadequate labelling and storage instructions, all contribute to this problem. The study – Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK 2012 – has brought the continuing challenge of food waste minimisation to the fore. A third of the world’s food is wasted, which is simply unacceptable. However to strengthen our economy and the UK’s approach to resource efficiency, improvements need to be made in business, as well as in the home. Food manufacturers, retailers and food outlets also find themselves with a surplus food problem. The reasons for this residual food are numerous, and sometimes cannot be avoided. When food is manufactured for instance, there are inevitable by-products and a proportion of the finished item cannot be placed on the market for human consumption. Production errors, trial runs, overcooking, packaging defects, and wrong weights and sizes can all prevent foodstuffs from making it onto retail shelves or into catering kitchens. Yet it is not just factories that face such problems. In the retail environment, the challenge continues, with over-ordering, out of date stock and the condition of fresh goods leaving some food unsold. Delivery times and transit conditions may mean some groceries for example have a limited shelf life, by the time they even reach a store. Add to this the buying tendencies of discerning customers who prefer unblemished fruit and vegetables, and often restrictive ‘display until’ dates, and the reasons for surplus food are clear to see. Thankfully however, a growing number of factories and retailers are listening to their environmental consciences. They are working together to tackle the factors that contribute to products being undesirable or unsellable, and they are talking to customers to change perceptions, alter buying habits and encourage more efficient food consumption. Waste prevention is being progressively communicated. Also, as the importance of the circular economy becomes increasingly acknowledged in the UK, these organisations are saying no to disposal, and are looking for a solution that harnesses the value of residual food, so that it doesn’t become a waste. Starch-rich foodstuffs including bread, biscuits, confectionery, crisps and breakfast cereals for example, can be recovered and converted into high quality ingredients for use in animal feed. Packaging materials can even be extracted for recycling. Of course this process is subject to strict regulation and safety checks, however the benefits are multi-faceted. It ensures waste hierarchy compliance, saves money and reduces the environmental damage that would otherwise be caused if the food was incinerated or landfilled and left to biodegrade. Furthermore, creating a high energy feed from products unsuitable for human consumption can boost the future quality of livestock products that people eat. This support for the food chain is a perfect example of a ‘closed loop’ system in action. Paul Featherstone is group director of SugaRich. Read More Recycling Food Waste into Animal Feed within the UK’s Legislative Framework Paul Featherstone, group director of SugaRich, looks at legislation and logistics to reduce the waste of former foodstuffs and instead turning them into valuable resources. Recycling On the Go: Additional Cost or Economic Necessity? John Williamson of bin manufacturer Amberol explains some of the issues involved in the introduction of recycling on the go. Huge Potential to Increase Automotive Waste Oil Recycling Mark Cawley, automotive sector director at Safetykleen discusses the importance of efficient oil collection and recovery in the automotive industry.