Going for gold – the race to beat global food waste

Dr Richard Swannell, Director Development Programmes

2016 has been a huge year for UK athletes. Scores of sportsmen and women smashed personal bests and brought home an amazing haul of medals from Rio. The Olympic and Paralympic Games showcase the best in the world where skill, training, ambition and action are key to success. Watching the Games I was struck by how these same drivers are essential in another Herculean task that we all face, wherever we live - tackling food waste.  

While the Olympics has nation pitched against nation, when it comes to beating food waste success lies in working together across our geographical boundaries. We can only beat food waste by sharing skills, helping to train one another in techniques that work, and driving action through a strong commitment to a clear and ambitious goal. 

The importance of partnerships is clear in the first progress update from the Champions 12.3 Group on actions against the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.  As you may know, SDG 12.3 aims to halve global food waste, per capita, at the retail and consumer level and reduce food losses along production and supply chains - including post-harvest losses, by 2030. 

It’s a huge undertaking requiring enormous effort and coordination. 

The fact is food waste is one of the most pernicious environmental crises. It contributes 8% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions - if it was a country it would in fact be the third largest emitter, behind only the USA and China – and financially it costs our global economy nearly one trillion dollars. 

But most scandalous of all, one third of all food produced every year on this planet is wasted, from farm to fork. 

In a world where populations are increasing and land resources are being squeezed ever more – that’s simply unsustainable. So it’s encouraging to see the scale of work underway around the globe summarised in this review. 

The UK and WRAP are well represented by work here at home, and through our partnership with other countries as in projects like REFRESH.

Through REFRESH we are developing bespoke voluntary agreements in four EU countries and China that exemplify this collaborative, partnership approach to the problem. Courtauld Commitment style models are being piloted in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Hungary and already programmes in each country are bringing together retailers, suppliers, governments, NGOs, and regional and grassroots organisations in partnerships. In China we are launching a similar REFRESH pilot in November. All these voluntary agreements are driving their individual countries towards delivering their part of this important SDG, just as the Courtauld Commitment 2025 is doing here in the UK. 

Another important highlight in the report is the need for clear, consistent data and accurate measuring of food waste across nations, something many have struggled with. 

Measuring food waste has been WRAP’s mantra since our work began on sustainable food systems over ten years ago. Again, partnerships have been crucial in making this happen and in developing the first-ever global standard to measure food loss and waste. Published by the WRI earlier this year, it has been developed by a consortium including WRAP, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Consumer Goods Forum, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCSD), and EU-FUSIONS. 

Now there is a single approach for all countries and businesses to use to accurately measure food waste. 

Today’s review offers a snapshot of how the field lies as we race to beat food waste. I’m very optimistic that our combined efforts can match the successes of our athletes, but while we may feel as confident as Mo Farah today, the reality is there is a lot of ground to cover and the clock is ticking.

First published on The Huffington Post, Sept 2016