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Food Waste in the UK: Government and retailers must do more

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of food waste in the UK and a number of initiatives developed in an attempt to reduce this. Several retailers in the UK have pledged to drive down food waste from stores, while numerous campaigns have aimed to educate individuals and cut the amount of food waste from households. UK charity, Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), has been at the forefront of campaigns. In 2007, WRAP launched its ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign backed by the government.

Results from some local regions of the UK indicated that the Love Food Hate Waste campaign was being met with success. However, statistics from WRAP show that food waste actually increased by 4.4% across the UK between 2012 and 2015; this despite a target to cut waste by 5% in the same period. Such results are disappointing in the face of government backed campaigns and pledges from retailers to actively cut food waste. A large problem lies with the fact that more funding is needed, and a concerted effort from both the government and retailers could boost the impact of future campaigns.

On the back of a recent Food Waste report, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has recommended that the government establishes a national food waste reduction target. Government attempts to curb food waste have been sporadic and lacked any form of firm target to work towards, with the consensus being a very general view that food waste should be reduced. What is needed is a solid target to work towards. In this way the government can measure how successful reduction initiatives are, while making a concerted effort to hit targets.

Retailers in the UK also need to take responsibility for the role they play in food waste. This needs to begin with full disclosure of food wasted in store, a move that EFRA is pushing for. This will not only allow individuals insight into the scale of the problem, it will also enable both retailers themselves and campaigners to examine ways in which such waste can be reduced.

The cost of food waste in the UK is not just monetary; it also has environmental and social costs. While progress has been made in recent years in terms of raising awareness, more needs to be done. There needs to be a full force strategy whereby the government, local authorities, schools, retailers and campaigners work together to significantly cut food waste.