Driving action on food waste to meet net zero
Following the publication of Tetra Pak’s new report on decarbonising the UK food system, Alex Henriksen, Managing Director of Tetra Pak UK, reflects on the importance of tackling food waste and loss if the UK is to meet its net zero goals.
Fostering a collaborative approach to tackling food waste
The impact of food waste and loss on climate change is well known, accounting for a staggering 8% of global greenhouse gases.1 Approximately a third of all food produced is lost or wasted.1
It’s a key reason why, at Tetra Pak, we prioritise working with our customers and partners to try to reduce food waste and loss across the food supply chain. Recognising that it starts even before products hit supermarket shelves, we help to create innovative approaches to food processing, to reduce spills, spoils and wastage during production.
But while the efforts of individual organisations is important, real change will only be driven if we take a holistic approach, underpinned by collaboration between all parts of the food value chain.
Indeed, recent research by Tetra Pak found that 31% of business leaders in the food and drink sector believe decarbonising our food system can only be meaningfully addressed by policymakers, industry, and consumers working together.2
That’s why Tetra Pak, working with experts from across the food and drink value chain, has launched a report called Food positive: driving change to decarbonise the UK food system. The report reflects on what collectively needs to be done to drive great decarbonisation of our food systems, and can be read here.
A large focus of the insights and recommendations shared in the report are on food waste and loss, and three clear messages have emerged for how we can make progress on this issue.
1. Ensuring businesses take the right steps
We must take a farm to fork perspective on food waste and loss, and Government has a role in fostering this approach.
Using R&D financing, the Government should encourage the development of digital platforms which help to combat food waste and loss, including the upcycling of side streams of the food manufacturing process, which too often are viewed, unnecessarily, as waste.
To take just one example of this kind of platform, Tetra Pak’s Dairy Hub model provides smallholder farms with access to local dairy processors, preventing food loss along the value chain. This is supported by access to specially designed digital tools which help producers and manufacturers track and achieve their food loss and waste goals.
The Government should also introduce targets for reducing food loss and waste within the food and drink sector, to drive greater action and supplement current proposals for mandatory food waste reporting from 2024.
2. Education as the catalyst for change
We know consumers are eager to play a role in delivering the UK’s net zero goals; our research found that half of UK consumers say the decarbonisation efforts or sustainability credentials of brands have a bearing on the purchases they make.2
Reducing household food waste is central to this role, but we can’t expect consumers to play their part if we haven’t provided them with the information or the resources needed to make better sustainability choices around their food.
Currently education on these issues is too siloed within the school curriculum – often limited to geography lessons.
The policy paper published by the Department of Education last year, which includes details on how to integrate climate change and sustainability in the curriculum, is very welcome, particularly as it includes the aim to teach children about strategies to prevent food waste.
The Department should now develop specific guidance for teachers on how the food system’s role in mitigating climate change is taught more holistically within the school curriculum in secondary schools. This would equip children with the understanding and knowledge to make informed decisions around food and drink, and play their part in reducing food waste and loss.
3. Empowering consumers
More broadly, the Government should work with industry to develop consumer awareness campaigns outlining the impact of food waste, and the food choices we make, on the planet. The campaign should provide examples of where small behaviour changes can help the UK meet its climate goals.
Beyond food waste, we need to empower consumers to make the right decisions, for example through better environmental labelling, which includes information on the climate impact of a package.
Policymakers should engage with the food and drink sector to develop clear metrics that provide transparency for consumers on the carbon footprint of products, across the value chain, to enable more informed and sustainable consumer choices.
Realising the UK’s net zero ambitions
If the UK is to meet its net zero ambitions, we need to quickly develop a new approach to how we produce, process and package food. And at the heart of that challenge is reducing food waste and loss.
No single actor in the food value chain has all of the answers or ideas needed to tackle this issue. We hope that our report, Food positive: driving change to decarbonise the UK food system, plays a small part in bringing together those who can have a real impact.
1 United Nations Environment Programme, 2021, Food Waste Index Report 2021. Available at: https://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-2021 (Last accessed 3 March 2023).
2 The data cited in this article relates to a survey of 150 food and drink business leaders across the UK and Ireland and 511 consumers across the UK, conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Tetra Oak from 7 to 12 October 2022.
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