Why we need to fine companies for wasting food

Food waste recycle fines
Philip Simpson: We're getting nowhere fast at the moment
20/05/2019 - 05:00
Philip Simpson, commercial director at UK’s leading food waste recycler, ReFood, explains why he welcomes the idea of commercial food waste fines as a potential catalyst to drive behavioural change:

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that we need to tackle the issue of food waste, and quickly! After all, wasting more than 14 million tonnes of food every year (in the UK alone) is simply absurd. But it’s glaringly obvious that we’re getting nowhere fast, and it’s clear a major rethink on ways to address the problem is needed.

Set against this backdrop, I was delighted to hear environment secretary Michael Gove’s recent hint at introducing fines for any business deemed to have knowingly wasted high volumes of food, or those companies that fail to adopt proper processes to minimise commercial food waste.

The introduction of financial penalties is always going to provoke a “marmite” response. Change is obviously imperative, but there are those that question whether the ‘stick’ option is a sensible choice, wondering whether we should instead be encouraging behavioural change with a more positive ‘carrot’?

For those favouring the latter, I feel it necessary to point out the obvious.  As a nation, we’re 24th globally in the food waste league table. This is a travesty when we consider the fact that we’re filling our landfill sites with millions of tonnes of food every year, while thousands of people in the UK rely on food banks everyday just to get by.

For a number of years now, we’ve witnessed our government weakly encouraging food waste reduction. Poor leadership, no firm legislation and almost no guidance, however, has resulted in a real lack of progress.

At the same time, those forward-thinking governments that have introduced financial food waste deterrents, such as France and Italy, are reaping the rewards of their stringent approach.

There is, however, one fine detail that we must correctly navigate – the difference between avoidable and unavoidable food waste. Avoidable waste, such as produce rejected on aesthetic grounds and restaurant leftovers from excessive portion sizes, can be easily eliminated with careful planning and consideration. Unavoidable waste on the other hand, such as bones, shells, fat and gristle, is almost impossible to eradicate.

For those instances of unavoidable food waste, it would be both unfair and unrealistic to penalise those companies involved in its generation.  A more robust solution is encouraging these companies to consider ways of diverting this waste from landfill, such as food waste recycling. Turning unavoidable food waste into both renewable energy and sustainable biofertiliser via anaerobic digestion (AD), the process effectively closes the food supply chain.

It’s clear that, for many businesses, food waste reduction strategies are regarded as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity. With this in mind, I would welcome food waste fines with open arms and I daresay that many of my industry peers will agree with me. Combining these fines with an outright ban on all food waste to landfill is the only way we will finally see the UK make the much-needed significant steps towards addressing our shameful food waste situation.

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