A UK-based company shows how to lead on food waste

2 Juni 2020

A whopping 2,500 tons. That’s how much a retailer in the United Kingdom has saved in food waste in just two years. Iceland, the company, says it has reduced its food waste by nearly a quarter, or 23%, since the beginning of 2018.

The trick has involved tried-and-tested methods for reducing food waste. Rather than dump unsold and unwanted food at landfills, the company has been donating it to local communities, converting it into animal feed and processing it into biofuel.

The retailer has donated nearly 160 tons of surplus food to needy people through community initiatives like Community Shop and partnerships with charities like The Bread and Butter Thing. Iceland’s food donations have so far totaled 375,000 meals to people in some of the most deprived communities. In addition, the retailer has sent unsold bread from its stores in Wales to a local brewery for making a pale ale.

“In 2016, we started to seriously look at opportunities around food waste reduction and redistribution,” Richard Walker, Iceland’s managing director, explained in an interview. “The step change came in 2018 when we brought together colleagues who were passionate about the issue from across the business.

“They shared their operational, audit, technical and communications expertise to work on a dedicated food waste project. These food waste champions have suggested and driven operational changes, and worked hand-in-hand with Wrap to report transparently for the first time,” Walker added.

In tandem with an obesity epidemic, fueled by overeating, food waste has reached epic proportions in the developed world, including the United Kingdom. Company-led initiatives like these can make a big difference in reducing the vast volumes of edibles that go to waste.

The production of so much surplus food has placed enormous stress on the environment with more and more land having been put to intensive agricultural uses. It has also driven up carbon emissions.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, between 25% to 30% of all the food that is produced winds up being lost or wasted worldwide. Wasted and lost food account for as much as a 10th of all our greenhouse gas emissions. In the EU alone, around 88 million tons of food is wasted every year. The economic costs of that are also considerable with some €143 billion lost in the process.

Ultimately, customers themselves can make a huge difference by buying only so much food that they can consume. Stocking up on frozen and canned food, which lasts longer, can also help, experts say.

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