In 2018, ex Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, proposed enforced measurement and mandatory targets to reduce food waste. Now, almost five years later, the government has announced it has ‘no plans’ to implement this.

The UK already faces a challenge to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030, but now how is this possible when companies aren’t required to measure food waste?

How much food does the UK waste?

The UK ranks disappointingly low for food sustainability, considering its status as a global power – coming in 20th out of 78 countries on the Food Sustainability Index – and an estimated 9.5 million tonnes, equivalent to £14 billion worth of food, is wasted each year..

However, there is a huge gap of recorded and accurate data of food waste – in fact, the last time food waste was accurately reported was in 2011, so it is hard to set achievable goals to reduce it.

Would Gove’s original plans have been beneficial?

Simply counting and reporting food waste is no sustainability intervention, but Europe has been showing the rest of the world how it’s done. In July 2023, The European Commission proposed legally binding targets, including a 30% food waste reduction for households, restaurants and retail. Under the plans, EU members will be legally obliged to reduce food waste in stores, restaurants and households by 30% by the end of 2030.

This is the kind of approach that the UK needs to follow suit and adopt, but it seems that we will not be able to match anything similar to these goals, now that Michael Gove’s plans have been scrapped.

On the other hand, it could be argued that enforced food measuring could have a negative effect on the food and hospitality industry, as the time taken to report the waste will not be an efficient way to encourage the longevity and success of new restaurants. Whatever approach the UK takes, it’s vital that hospitality businesses are supported to ensure that the process is sustainable and beneficial.

What other efforts are being made for food sustainability?

Many corporations across the UK have already taken the initiative to improve their food sustainability. For example, Tesco was the first UK supermarket to report food waste data in 2013 and it’s working with the World Wide Fund for Nature to set a standard for reporting food waste.

Wastage of edible but cosmetically imperfect food is also questioned by websites such as online food market, Rubies in the Rubble, and Sainsbury’s has introduced a ‘taste me, don’t waste me’ £2 box of surplus fruit and vegetables, similar to Lidl’s ‘Wonky Veg’ box.

However, without legally binding targets or measurements, it’s very hard to combat food waste. With this in mind, it’s likely that the UK public – 61% claiming to be either concerned or very concerned about food sustainability – will continue to pressure the UK government to finally take action to reduce food waste.

So, do you think Government intervention is necessary to curb food waste? And what is your hospitality business doing to reduce it?

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