Operation ‘Empty Plate’

What Can We Learn From the Programme to safeguard China’s food security and minimise food waste?

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, reliance on imports, floods and tensions with the US, food shortages are becoming a real possibility across China.

Experts project a national shortfall of 130 million tonnes by 2025, highlighting the need for immediate action. President Xi Jinping has declared that wasting food is no longer an option and his latest national campaign, ‘Operation empty plate’, aims to drastically curb food waste by contravening Chinese hospitality customs and encouraging a new set of practices.

Part of the initiative, “N-1 ordering” is intended to stop rampant over-ordering, encouraging those eating out to order one meal less than the number of diners.

Another recommendation is that restaurants offer half-size and smaller portions, while also accommodating take-home bags and to-go boxes for the leftovers. 

The president’s aim is to make food waste a national priority by strengthening legislation, supervision and education and in turn, to reduce significantly food waste across China.

So what can the UK learn from ‘operation empty plate’? Surely a food shortfall is not a concern that we need to consider?  Unfortunately, food poverty is already a significant issue in the UK and according to research, we are one of the world’s worst culprits for food waste. Each year we throw away an estimated 10 million tonnes of food – approximately 150 kilograms per person! 

Alongside the financial implications and risk to our food security is the catastrophic impact on the environment.  When food is left to decompose in landfill, it generates gases 21 times more harmful to the environment than CO­2. When you consider the scale of this problem, it’s clear that we – like China – must do something to curb our food waste.

So what can the UK do to tackle the problem? 

First: improved education, food waste is not simply a problem for politicians to solve, it is an issue we must all tackle by educating the public and businesses nationwide about the consequences of wasting food and make it a national cause.

Second: embrace new ways of thinking to minimise waste. Following the food waste hierarchy is key – prevent waste in the first place, re-use what we can, redistribute surplus and divert scraps to other uses (such as animal feed). Some progress is being made via national waste reduction campaigns, adoption of charity redistribution schemes and numerous initiatives to reduce waste throughout the supply chain.

Third: provide a solution for the fraction of food waste we cannot prevent. Things like gristle, bones and shells are ideal feedstock for food waste recycling that turns discarded scraps into green electricity and gas. For businesses, recycling unavoidable food waste can give a 53% cost saving compared with traditional waste management alternatives.

Finally: strict legislation – as in China – to make the above ideas part of our everyday lives. A national ban on food waste to landfill is a key part of a more sustainable society and would make our ‘throwaway culture’ a thing of the past, penalising those who fail to follow the rules, benefitting us all. 

We can learn from the aggressive stance taken in China and follow best practice, implementing national change to make wasting food a thing of the past. 

There are clear environmental, financial and food security benefits to changing the way we approach the issue — if we do not act soon the consequences could prove devastating.

Waking the Nation to Food Waste

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WRAP to trailblaze a week of action in March 2021 to ‘wake the nation up’ to the environmental consequences of wasting food

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has announced that the inaugural ‘Food Waste Action Week’ will run Monday 1 to Sunday 7 March 2021 and bring together organisations from retailers to local authorities, restaurants to manufacturers and beyond.  WRAP will work with a variety of partners to show that wasted food is an issue that affects everyone – and the planet. Wasted food contributes 8-10% of total man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while roughly one third of food produced around the world is wasted.

Since the landmark Courtauld Commitment (2005) and Love Food Hate Waste (2007) the UK’s annual food waste has reduced from 11.2 million tonnes to 9.5 million tonnes.  WRAP is reinforcing its work in citizen food waste prevention, which will be a key focus for the Food Waste Action Week.

The climate emergency continues to matter to UK citizens, meaning that partners have a crucial opportunity to support the Food Waste Action Week and appeal to people’s hearts and minds.  Reaching citizens of all ages with this message is essential for creating lasting change and reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030.  

The Week will also focus on the Hospitality and Food Service sector, looking at what changes they can implement to ensure as little food as possible is thrown away.  Building on the success of the 2019 Stand Up For Food month the week of action will shine a light on how Hospitality and Food Service businesses across the UK can reduce the 1.1 million tonnes of food wasted annually – a almost unbelievably, much of which comes from food ordered but not eaten!  

The WRAP CEO said: “The climate crisis remains one of the biggest and most urgent challenges facing humanity and wasted food is a significant contribution to climate change, something we need to address together. WRAP has the data and research to demonstrate the reality of the issue – what we need is for partners to get this date in the diary, and join us in the Food Waste Action Week activities to make wasting food a thing of the past. WRAP encourages any partners who are interested in taking part in the Food Waste Action Week to get in touch to discuss the plans for this ground-breaking, cross-industry event.

Food is a precious resource; working together, we can prevent it being needlessly wasted and protect the planet.  So local pubs and restaurants, please get engaged!

Tesco and suppliers cut 200,000 tonnes food waste from operations

Image: GDS Infographics

Food waste from supermarkets and their suppliers is a major source of waste that needs to be addressed urgently, as it contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.  The Covid pandemic has also shown that food supply chains need to be examined to make them more robust.

The supermarket chain Tesco has been publishing its own food waste data for the eight years and challenges other retailers and food companies to do likewise.  Working in partnership with 71 of its largest suppliers around the world, Tesco reports it has cut 200,000 tonnes of food waste from their combined, worldwide operations in the last eight years.

Working with its own-label suppliers, Tesco has cut 125,000 tonnes of food waste over the last three years and worked in partnership with 11 of the world’s biggest household brands – including Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Nestlé and Unilever – who report a further cut of 30,000 tonnes from their operations.

Following this lead, all companies should be setting food waste reduction targets and publish their data.

According to Tesco and members of the global coalition, Champions 12.3 the combined effects of climate change and Covid-19 have made tackling food waste more urgent than ever.  The coalition warns that food waste accounts for 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions and that unless we act now, we will undermine our ability to tackle the climate emergency.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has exposed what it calls ‘weaknesses’ in the global food system, driving up food waste, impacting farmer incomes and increasing the number of people who go to bed hungry.

The UK government and its counterparts around the world are being asked to embed food loss and waste reduction into post-Covid plans to bolster supply chains.

Dave Lewis, Tesco CEO and Chair of Champions 12.3 says that one third of the world’s food is going to waste, while one in nine people go hungry.  If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet.  In order to halve global food waste by 2030, more must be done with more urgency than ever before.

Progress is being made, with the UK cutting food waste by 27% since 2007 and hundreds of companies, doing their part but there is still more to do and even more companies need to set food waste reduction targets and publish their data.

A good start but more is needed to be done by other food manufacturers and by consumers to reduce food waste.