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Time to get radical in fighting food waste

Last week I was in London to join a number of experts and policy makers from across the UK to debate progress and consider further actions in the fight against food waste. 

Iain Gulland | 16 Oct 17

The consensus was clear that tackling food waste is an environmental, economic, and moral imperative and there is more and more awareness of the scale of the issue as well as positive actions which appear to be addressing some of the most obvious issues.

For me, the question isn’t whether we have the solutions at our disposal: of course we do, food waste is not inevitable.  It is a symptom of a system that isn’t working properly; in which we value the wrong things. We just have to reset the system to focus on the right things.  Resetting the system will require some radical actions so the question I posed to the audience in London yesterday was how radical are we prepared to be?

Scotland has often shown a willingness to be more radical than most when it comes to waste and a circular economy.  We were the first devolved administration to introduce landfill bans, the first to require separate recycling collections from business; including food waste, and very recently, we became the first to commit to introducing a deposit-return system for drinks containers. 

We were also the first nation in Europe to propose a food waste reduction target – to reduce food waste by a third by 2025.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham recently set out next steps on work to achieve this target.  Zero Waste Scotland has been asked to develop a series of potential measures, under four themes, which could contribute towards the target.  We’ll model the potential impact of different measures, so Government can decide what policy steps it wants to take.

We’re clear that radical options will be part of that overall package.

It will also be a joined-up approach.  We have always been really clear that food waste must be tackled all along the supply chain, and that action in one sector does not accidentally have a negative impact somewhere else.

So, firstly, we will look at measures that support collective and individual leadership on the issue, across the public, private and third sectors.  There’s great work happening already.  In Tayside, we’ve helped the NHS pilot a new catering system that reduced food waste by 26%, saving an estimated £133k p.a.  And in the private sector we’ve helped Mortons Rolls identify 200 tonnes of potential reductions worth a saving of £800,000 per year.  We need to make those examples the norm across all sectors.

Secondly, we will focus on how we all make decisions around food, and we want to empower people to make better choices.  We need to ensure all those with a responsibility to help people avoid food waste play their part and we need to ‘hard wire’ behaviour change, starting in our schools.  Our UK-first, full-school curriculum resource is a great start.

Thirdly, we will look at issues around standards and regulation.  We’re proud of our waste regulations but we’re clear that we don’t want good food that could be eaten pushed down a waste management route.  So we need to ensure regulations work together better. 

Finally, we see there’s a clear role for new technology and innovation and we need to be bold in supporting solutions that can have the highest impact, so they are adopted across the food system. 

To be clear, these aren’t necessarily legislative measures we’re considering.  Much can be achieved by influencing business and social change.

But having said that, Scotland is taking forward a Good Food Nation Bill and we’re clear that tackling food waste must be part of that. 

In particular, we need to make sure that all policies support the idea of valuing food more – not just based on cost, but for its nutritional benefits or how it was produced.  Food waste is absolutely a symptom of a poorly-valued food system.  Measures that encourage higher quality food to be produced and purchased, better and shorter supply chains, and enhanced food education, will all have an impact on food waste and that’s why it needs to be part of the same conversation. 

Taken together, we believe the measures we are going to be looking at can make the difference.  Exactly how radical we need to be remains to be seen.  But we’re clear that bold options and big ideas must be on the table, not in the kitchen caddy.

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