Thoughts on Wales’ target to halve food waste by 2025
As was widely reported recently, Wales has put forward a target to halve food waste by 2025. This ambitious target trumps commitments made by the EU earlier in the year and the US to do the same by 2030. A report published by The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) this year recommended that England set a national target to reduce food waste. At Feedback, we supported this recommendation and further called for the target to be legally binding.
Those familiar with Welsh environmental policy will not be surprised by their ambition, with Wales enjoying the second highest recycling rate in Europe and third highest world-wide. In fact, Wales has exceeded its target to reach a 64% recycling rate by 2020 four years early. Wales’ track record on environmental issues mean that this target should be both taken seriously, and commended.
There are concerns however: primarily that this target is not legally-binding, with the obvious risk that as time goes on political commitment to achieving the target wanes.
However, the target is based on reliable data using 2006/7 levels as a baseline. Figures from WRAP Cymru show that between 2009 and 2015, food thrown out within households decreased by 12%. This is highly attributable to the implementation of food waste caddies supplied to households with regular collections within all of Wales’ local authorities.
As Feedback have consistently argued – we need to think beyond household bins to solve food waste. If this goal is to be achieved, serious consideration must be given to the vast amount of food waste which occurs throughout the supply chain particularly that caused by powerful players such as the supermarkets
How will Wales achieve this ambitious target?
Promotional campaigns to encourage food recycling at home, doggy bag schemes introduced to reduce food waste within restaurants, local public food recycling points and investment in waste-to-energy anaerobic digestion (AD) have all been highlighted as impending strategies. Notably absent is any mention of the role the supermarkets will have to play in terms of relaxing cosmetic standards within their purchasing practises or of taking responsibility for the redistribution of surplus food going to waste within their stores.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) has been gaining increasing interest and may be seen as an effective food waste management strategy due to the generation of electricity and absence of CO2 emissions it offers. However, as the food waste pyramid illustrates, AD should only be considered when food is not fit for consumption by humans or livestock.
Food for thought…
The target set by Wales certainly should be applauded for its pragmatism and ambition. What is most important to consider is how this target will be met. It is imperative that the high target set does not in fact encourage less sustainable yet more empirically effective waste management strategies such as (AD) in favour of those which realise the original purpose of food – to nourish!
What is required is a systemic change in the food system towards a circular model, like that put forward by Feedback, which reconsiders what ‘waste’ is and allows for the actual value of ‘waste’ to be understood. ‘Waste’ can then be managed through ‘best use loops’ so that humans, animals and soil, in that order, can benefit from extracting the full potential of ‘waste’ which in turn reduces the need for an increase in food production. Food waste is a symptom of our broken food system – to end food waste, we have to build a better one.
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