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Philip Simpson
Philip Simpson

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01 July 2019 Philip Simpson

More must be done to address the food waste problem in the UK, argues Philip Simpson.

It is absurd that the UK wastes more than 14 million tonnes of food every year. We need a major rethink.

So I’m delighted to hear Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (at time of going to press – Ed), hint at the introduction of fines for businesses that knowingly waste high volumes of food or fail to adopt proper processes to minimise food waste.

Financial penalties will provoke a Marmite response. Change is imperative, but some question whether the ‘stick’ instead of the ‘carrot’ is a sensible choice.

To those favouring the latter, the UK is ranked 24th globally in the food waste league table. We’re sending millions of tonnes of food to landfill every year while thousands rely on food banks just to get by.

For a number of years we’ve witnessed our government weakly encouraging food waste reduction, but poor leadership, feeble legislation and scant guidance has resulted in a lack of progress.

Meanwhile, forward-thinking governments in France and Italy introduced financial deterrents and are reaping the rewards.

One fine detail we must navigate is 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 eliminated with careful planning.  Unavoidable waste – such as bones, shells, fat and gristle – is almost impossible to eradicate; it would be unfair and unrealistic to penalise firms involved in its generation. 

A more robust answer is to encourage diversion of waste from landfill through recycling unavoidable food waste into renewable energy and sustainable biofertiliser through anaerobic digestion.

I welcome food waste fines and I daresay many of my industry peers agree with me. Combining these fines with an outright ban on all food waste to landfill is the only way that we will finally see the UK address our shameful waste of food.

Philip Simpson is commercial director at food waste recycler ReFood