Combatting food waste is vital for communities and climate – we must step up to the plate

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By Chris Hillman, head of sustainability & social innovation at Danone UK & Ireland

One third of all food produced in the world is never eaten, and the amount of food wasted globally could provide more than enough to feed every undernourished person on the planet.[1] Not only is this a major moral concern – it’s also damaging our climate, and it’s important that we continue to drive awareness of the impact that food waste has on the climate crisis. Global food waste produces more greenhouse gas than all commercial flights, and if food waste were a country, it would have the world’s third-biggest carbon footprint. 

In the UK over 9.5 million tonnes of food is wasted every year and we all have a responsibility to try and reduce this as much as possible. As food businesses and retailers, alongside reducing food waste in our own operations, we must work across the entire supply chain to ensure surplus food reaches those people in need. We must also work together to support consumers in tackling food waste in their own homes.

Addressing this requires collaborative action from businesses, policymakers, not for profits and consumers alike. It’s extremely positive to see so many organisations and individuals supporting the UK’s first ever Food Waste Action Week, taking place throughout this week. To inspire greater action, the campaign is highlighting the significant link between food waste and the climate crisis. 

When food is wasted, the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport and package it is also wasted. And if food ends up going to landfill and rots, it also produces methane – a harmful greenhouse gas. Yet, although wasting food contributes to global emissions, only 32% of the public currently see a clear link between food waste and the climate crisis.1 By raising awareness of this connection and the simple ways to prevent food waste, Danone and other supporters of Food Waste Action Week aim to inspire and engage  other businesses and consumers to take positive steps in tackling food waste.

One vital step is to help consumers make better informed decisions about whether food is still safe to eat by making labelling clearer. Research from Too Good To Go shows that 45% of people are confused about the true meaning of ‘Best Before’ dates. While ‘Use By’ dates indicate when a food is no longer safe to eat, foods past their ‘Best Before’ date can often still be eaten and enjoyed.

That’s why, in addition to supporting Food Waste Action Week, we have joined Too Good To Go’s ‘Look, Smell, Taste Don’t Waste’ campaign – working with other leading food brands to minimise unnecessary food waste by switching from ‘Use By’ to ‘Best Before’ date labels where appropriate and empowering consumers to use their senses to decide whether to eat food past its ‘Best Before’. As part of this campaign, we’re switching from ‘Use By’ to ‘Best Before’ date labels on our Danone Essential Dairy & Plant-based products in the UK.

Supporting consumers in tackling food waste at home is just one part of the solution. Businesses need to continue to focus on reducing food wasted in their operations, and we also need to ensure that any food surplus is redistributed to people in need. Getting surplus product to food banks and other good causes isn’t a long-term solution to poverty, but with 8.4 million people in the UK currently struggling to afford to eat, we need to ensure that as much food is redistributed as possible instead of it being wasted.[2] In 2020, Danone donated over 250 tonnes of products to community causes supporting people in need in the UK & Ireland. This year we are partnering with three organisations to redistribute surplus food: FareShare, the UK’s largest charity fighting hunger and food waste; Company Shop who offer surplus products through their UK social enterprise Community Shop; and Food Cloud, an Irish social enterprise that connects businesses with surplus food with charities and community groups that need it.

It’s also important that we consider our responsibility to reduce the amount of food that is wasted across our own operations. At Danone UK & Ireland, we have joined WRAP’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, implementing the Target, Measure, Act principles with a commitment to halve food waste across our UK operations by 2030.

We recognise we are on a journey and as a business we know in order to truly drive wide scale positive change in tackling food waste we need to partner and collaborate with our supply chain, brands, retailers and not for profits. We need to continue to empower consumers to make informed decisions through ensuring our products are clearly labelled, as well as continuing to support our local communities and people in need through redistributing food where possible. 

As the pandemic continues to put severe strain on communities across the UK and Ireland, and the climate crisis shows no signs of slowing, there has never been a more critical time to prioritise cutting food waste. The case for change is clear: we all have a part to play in driving awareness of this important issue and doing our bit to reduce food waste.

References:

[1] U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization

2 https://fareshare.org.uk/what-we-do/hunger-food-waste/#:~:text=8.4%20million%20people%20in%20the%20UK%20are%20struggling%20to%20afford%20to%20eat&text=4.7%20million%20of%20these%20people,experience%20physical%20sensations%20of%20hunger.