Biffa report reveals up to 2 million tonnes of food could be saved from being wasted by 2029 with effective redistribution solutions


As eight practical interventions to the waste stream are outlined, government legislation, aligned with action from UK businesses, could see the changes take effect

• Up to 2 million tonnes of food could be saved from being wasted via redistribution solutions, according to a new report by waste management firm Biffa
• The report – The UK Journey to Circularity – outlines interventions at all points in the food loss and waste supply chain, with realistic timescales
• Upcoming mandatory food waste segregation legislation could see a further 1.4 million tonnes of waste avoided
• Developments to infrastructure, legislation, behaviour and investment are key for these waste savings to be made

Up to 2 million tonnes of food waste could be avoided by usage of redistribution solutions within the next five years, according to a new report from leading sustainable waste management company Biffa.

The report – The UK Journey to Circularity – launched alongside Biffa’s Waste Net Zero conference at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 11 June.

Working with consultancy partner WSP, the experts at Biffa have developed a new approach to circularity research and analysis, creating a framework which can be applied to specific resource streams, but also scaled to whole sectors or individual products. It outlines eight interventions – with timescales – needed from businesses, consumers and the UK Government.

The largest opportunity for food loss and waste comes with the expansion of food redistribution. This could prevent food from entering the waste stream in the first place, with up to 2 million tonnes of surplus redistributed as a result.

The Biffa Group has already seen significant progress in food redistribution solutions with subsidiary Company Shop Group – an organisation that works directly with manufacturers and retailers to help prevent food from becoming waste, processing ‘surplus stock’ which would not make it to consumers. This can be down to anything from imperfect packaging and excess ingredients to missed deliveries or seasonal product lines.

Stock is then sold for a discounted price to members in one of 14 Company Shop locations and 12 Community Shops – social enterprises supporting communities in the most deprived areas of the UK, with a 13th store opening at end of June. In 2023, Company Shop Group redistributed over 45,000 tonnes of food and drink products that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Several other proven business models for redistribution exist already – for example, where businesses can sell short-dated stock or unsold food and drink for reduced prices – but these solutions largely focus on the lower end of the supply chain; expansion further up the chain would support greater redistribution and provide an outlet for food loss.

The UK Government needs to play a key role too. The existing commitment to mandatory segregated food waste collections – as part of the Simpler Recycling legislation in England and the already live Workplace Recycling scheme in Wales and existing legislation in Scotland – has the potential to capture 1.4 million tonnes of material that can’t currently be effectively extracted due to co-mingling with other residual waste.

Implementation of Simpler Recycling in England in 2025 will also require all UK businesses with more than 10 employees to separate food waste for dedicated collection for the first time ever. In a new survey by Biffa* of UK businesses, Simpler Recycling was ranked the second most important upcoming piece of waste legislation, with nearly two-thirds (62%) recognising that it will impact their business.

Further interventions – such as matching food supply and demand, redefining how food is valued and a shift towards reusable packaging, especially in food contact applications – could each see 0.3, 1.1 and 0.13 million tonnes of food waste reduced, or processed as Anaerobic digestion for energy recovery.

Head of Partnerships, Biffa, Carla Brian, summarises what needs to be true to achieve these high-volume reductions:

“Existing infrastructure capacity to handle upcoming changes in how food waste is collected and handled is insufficient, so needs expanding. Transport, reverse logistics, sorting, cleaning and storage capacity will be necessary if opportunities for food redistribution are maximised. Anaerobic digestioncapacity will also need to be built out once there is confidence more food waste will be captured.

Legislative changes to food waste collections will generate data that clarifies the size of the UK’s food waste problem. Most data currently relies on estimations. Food systems reporting (such as mandatory reporting for businesses and development of a clear food hierarchy) would allow for better understanding of where and how food loss occurs and waste is generated, enabling development of targeted circular activities. Implementation of these pieces of legislation needs to be carefully considered, though, to ensure the impact is not detrimental to businesses.

“Changing behaviour in expectations as to the visual appearance of food could minimise waste by removing consumer demand for ‘perfect’ fruit and vegetables. Better matching of supply to demand would help consumers to only buy what they need, which can be done by selling more loose produce and removing sales tactics like ‘buy one, get one free’ offers.

“There’s a direct link between infrastructure and investment, but supplementary investment in areas that aid understanding of the impact and effectiveness of change – like food waste reporting systems – will also identify opportunities for change and make implementation easier.”

Full details of Biffa’s framework for UK circularity, including the interventions, the timelines associated and the potential impact in food loss and waste can be found in The UK Journey to Circularity report: https://www.biffa.co.uk/campaigns/waste-net-zero-2024

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