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Covid-19’s impact on the food waste sector

A LEADING food waste expert has warned that the UK could miss its sustainable development goal of halving food waste by 2030 due to the impact of Covid-19.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal SDG 12.3 aims to cut food waste by half globally by 2030 and address its significant carbon and methane footprint.

However our commercial director Kevin Quigley said the amount of food waste being generated during lockdown could hamper efforts being made across the UK’s food and drink sector.

He added that recent food waste figures revealed in a new report from the Sustainable Restaurant Association and Just Eat were “alarming”.

The analysis shows how takeaway restaurants have been generating 25% more food waste during the Coronavirus lockdown due to unpredictable ordering patterns.

The report also highlights how the average cost of food waste produced weekly in UK takeaway restaurants has risen from £111 pre-lockdown to £148.

“At Warrens’ anaerobic digestion plant, our keyworkers have already recycled more than 22,000 tonnes of food waste in the first quarter of this year. On a daily basis this includes recycling food waste from local authorities, schools and businesses and converting it into green energy.

“A lot of food companies have pledged to tackle food waste, but Covid-19 has thrown many off-track and forced them to look at different ways of operating.

“We realise that there have been fluctuations in customer ordering patterns for restaurants, but the spike in waste during lockdown means that a lot has been ending up in the bin.

“It remains to be seen whether restaurants that couldn’t open will also have a big waste dump as they prepare to reopen from July. They must surely have a lot of food that has been in freezers and storage for the past few months that they can’t use.

“Overall, if we don’t act now this will contribute to a bigger carbon footprint and restaurants and takeaways need to keep this front of mind as we head out of lockdown.”

Kevin pointed to recent food waste guidance documents published by the SRA and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) that could help takeaway operators waste less.

“Reducing food waste is one of the easiest ways we can all make a positive impact on the environment. Food delivery services have been playing a vital role in helping restaurants stay afloat during these uncertain times, but with tighter budgets, food waste in kitchens as well as on the home front needs to be tackled head-on.

“At Warrens biogas plant, we are doing our bit to help as when these materials are anaerobically digested, the resulting nutrients found in digestate, an end product of the anaerobic digestion process, can be used to feed and nourish the soil.”

In more positive news, the report’s findings also suggest that once takeaway meals have reached homes, consumers attitudes towards food waste was showing signs of improvement.

“It does seem as though the empty supermarket shelves and stockpiling has heightened people’s awareness of food waste in the home, which is good news. If we can manage food waste now, it may act as a catalyst for the food waste industry to engage and educate the public about the environmental and economic benefits.

“We certainly need to keep food waste out of landfills because if these materials decay in landfills, methane and carbon dioxide are released into the air and it will only contribute to climate change.”