Make supermarkets report and reduce food waste, says Aberystwyth academic at COP26

Cardigan Bay

Cardigan Bay

08 November 2021

Supermarkets, councils and hospitality venues should have to disclose how much food they waste, and meet annual reduction targets, according to an Aberystwyth University academic.

Food loss and waste make up 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and globally over a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year.

Dr Siobhan Maderson from Aberystwyth University’s Department of Geography and Earth Sciences is part of a team of winners of the Global Food Security programme Policy Lab competition.

The team’s recommendations will be released at the UKRI exhibit at the COP26 climate summit today (Monday 8 November).

Dr Maderson and her research colleagues’ policy proposals appear in a report  funded by a prize from UKRI’s Global Food Security Programme . They include:

  • mandatory measuring, stating and reduction of food loss and waste in supplier-retailer contracts;
  • requiring hospitality, supermarkets and local authorities to disclose all food loss and waste and set annual mandatory reduction targets;
  • review current rules and regulations on food waste disposal and consider repurposing food loss and waste, for example, as animal feed;
  • supporting more efficient, less wasteful supply chains through increased public procurement directly from suppliers; and
  • standardised definitions and terminology for classifying food loss, waste, surplus, inedible parts and destinations of food loss and waste.

The researchers also call for further investigation into infrastructure support for food loss and waste distribution hubs, and the way information about the environmental, social and economic impact of our food systems is collected.

Speaking ahead of the release of the recommendations at COP26, one of the authors of the report, Dr Siobhan Maderson from Aberystwyth University, commented:

“COP26 is an urgent opportunity to get countries to reduce their greenhouse gases, and decreasing food loss and waste is a key part of that. If food loss and waste were represented as a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, causing 10% of global emissions.

“At the moment, most of the work on decreasing food waste is focused on consumers and householders, but our research points to waste and inefficiencies throughout the food system, including on the farm, and as a result of highly restrictive contractual specifications between suppliers and retailers.”

“Producing, consuming and wasting food generates impacts that cost our society, but these costs are not normally included in the price of food we buy. Examples of this include how the price of high-fat and high-sugar foods do not include the costs of the health service treating illnesses resulting from diets high in these foods, and the price of meat not including the costs of dealing with negative environmental impacts from livestock farming.

“We explored True Cost Accounting, a method for assessing and understanding the true social, economic, and environmental impacts of different food production systems. We need to develop systems that can overcome siloed thinking about the causes and responsibility for food loss and waste, and support collaborative efforts to make food systems more environmentally efficient, and socially just.”

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aim to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.

Dr Maderson added:

“Barriers to reducing food waste at the household level include a lack of time,
knowledge and skills for purchasing and
preparing food. Use-by dates on packaging
and large portion sizes exacerbate this. Almost unlimited accessibility to inexpensive, globally produced food also disconnects consumers from the true value and impact of their food, and the value lost when wasting it.

“Importantly, we need to look beyond individual household waste, and address loss and waste at all points in the food system. Large, complex supply chains result in overproduction and overstocking. Unavoidable waste, as well as spoiled or damaged food is usually sent to landfill, due to current regulations on repurposing food loss and waste.”