Food waste: review of 2019 waste reduction action plan

A review of food waste reduction progress in Scotland following publication of the Food Waste Reduction Action Plan in 2019.

3 Progress and Lessons Learned

This section reviews what progress has been made since the publication of the FWRAP and what has been learned from this progress so far.

3.1 Has progress been made against the FWRAP baseline?

The 2019 FWRAP set out the measures to support delivery of the 33% food waste reduction target. A new national food waste estimate for 2021 was published in October 2023[40] and this provided the first post-2019 FWRAP data update.

The key findings from this are:

  • Per capita food waste increased by 2% from 185 kg per person per year in 2013 to 189 kg per person per year in 2021.
  • Over 1.037 million tonnes of food were wasted in Scotland in 2021, an increase of 5% from the 2013 baseline.
  • Households generated 59% of the total, food and drink manufacturing generated 27%, and other sectors were responsible for 14%.
  • Food waste tonnage from households increased by 2% against the 2013 baseline, but food waste per capita from households fell by 1%.
  • There has been an increase in the food waste from households that is disposed of via separate food waste collections.
  • Food waste tonnage from other sectors increased by 4% against the baseline[41].
  • Food waste tonnage from food and drink manufacturing increased by 13% against the baseline.

The estimate suggests that over 1.037 million tonnes of food was wasted in Scotland in 2021, generating over 4.7million tonnes of CO2eq:[42] approximately 6% of Scotland’s total carbon footprint[43]. This would be within the range of the estimate that 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food losses and waste[44].

At a UK level, WRAP estimate that 70% of food waste is edible[45], so can be prevented from becoming waste. If this is applied to the Scottish food waste estimate, 3.3million tonnes of CO2eq could have been prevented from entering the atmosphere if the edible component of food waste was avoided. The remaining 1.4million tonnes of CO2eq could have been mitigated if all household food waste was recycled, and businesses and organisations ensured their food waste was managed according to the food waste hierarchy.

The 2021 estimate indicated that food waste tonnage increased by 5% between the baseline year of 2013 and 2021. An estimate for 2018 was also calculated to investigate if the increase was due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2018 estimate was very similar to the 2021 estimate, suggesting that the increase is part of a longer-term trend and not due to the unprecedented effects of the pandemic.

The 33% reduction in food waste by 2025 target is per capita rather than absolute, to allow for changes in population. When measured this way, the 2021 estimate explains food waste increased by 2% per capita, from 185 kg per person per year during the baseline to 189 kg per person per year in 2021[46].

This means the overall reduction required to reach the 2025 target is to reduce our food waste by 65 kg per person per year.

The population of Scotland increased by 3% between 2013 and 2021, resulting in a 1% reduction in the per capita waste from households between 2013 and 2021. This small reduction in per capita waste from households was offset by increases in the amount of food waste generated by food and drink manufacturing and other sectors resulting in the overall increase of 2%. Therefore, households need to continue to reduce their food waste at a much faster rate, while food and drink manufacturing and other sectors need to reverse the increases in the food waste they are generating. More detail on how these changes have influenced the overall food waste levels generated in Scotland can be found in the 2021 estimate[47].

Regardless of how food waste is measured, the increase in food waste has made it harder to achieve the 33% target by 2025, requiring Scotland to prevent more waste from occurring in a shorter period of time. This will require a different approach to working towards targets. WRAP has identified the need for Governments, business, and individuals at a UK and sector-specific level to work together to step up our efforts to reduce food waste and transform the food system[48].

This has been reinforced through Scotland’s experience of delivering on the measures outlined in the 2019 FWRAP, and engagement with the food and drink sector and other stakeholders that has taken place as part of this Review. The Scottish Government’s first consultation on the Circular Economy and Waste Route Map[49] also set out the need to increase the pace and scale of progress to help meet food waste and wider waste targets; and set out proposed priority actions to drive progress across these areas.

However, it is worth noting COVID-19 significantly disrupted all food waste producing sectors and therefore there is a lack of data needed to assess progress in 2019 and 2020, following the 2019 FWRAP publication. There was some evidence that the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 may have led to a 43% reduction in household food waste across the UK, but this appeared to rebound as lockdowns were relaxed[50]. The cost-of-living crisis did not cause a similar reduction[51] in household food waste, despite people adopting behaviours focused on saving money. Such self-reported trends did not translate to the household component of the 2021 Scottish food waste estimate, which saw household waste volume increase by 2% against the 2013 baseline.

The 1% reduction in per capita food waste generated by household is not at the levels self-reported by households, as cited above, but it is positive. When combined with results from the 2022 Waste Composition study[52], it indicates that there may have been modest changes in behaviour. The waste composition analysis aligned with the results of the 2021 food waste analysis, indicating that the overall increase in household food waste was being disposed of through separate food waste collections rather than in residual waste. This reduces the carbon impacts of the waste, but not as much as preventing the waste in the first place, and it was also offset by increases in the amount of waste coming from food and drink manufacturing and other sectors. While there is a high degree of uncertainty around food waste data, it is clear, like other nations, that improvements are not being achieved at the speed and scale of change needed to meet Scotland’s 2025 food waste reduction target[53]. Food waste is a global problem and available evidence suggests other countries are also experiencing similar challenges. The World Resources Institute found evidence of food waste reduction from a handful of countries, all below the level required to meet the SDG 12.3 target[54] and Champions 12.3 could find no evidence of a country that has already halved its rate of food waste, and the countries actively trying to achieve the target at scale account for less than 40% of the global population[55].

The 2021 Scottish food waste estimate and UK wide data from WRAP suggest that Scotland and the UK must step up action on food waste reduction in order to achieve the UN SDG 12.3 target of 50% by 2030[56] . This applies to all parts of our food system. For example, in 2021 WRAP estimated that almost 40% of the UK’s large food and drink businesses had signed up to WRAP’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, but another 350 to 380 major food businesses need to reduce their food waste to achieve the UN goal[57]. In 2022, another 33 businesses signed up which still means a further 350 are required. Although retail is well covered by the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, with commitments from all the major retail chains covering 95% of total food waste from retail, hospitality and food service and manufacturing lag at around 10% and 55-60% coverage, respectively[58].

Public awareness of food waste’s impact on the planet also presents a significant challenge in terms of meeting our 33% reduction target. Evidence from a recent Zero Waste Scotland survey suggests that 86% of people in Scotland are unaware that food waste can be an even bigger contributor to climate change than plastic waste[59]. 78% of people in Scotland also reported in 2023 that they actively try to reduce their food waste most or all of the time[60], with those over 65 and those without children most likely to always reduce food waste.

At a UK level, awareness of food waste as an important issue was very high and increasing in 2022, with 81% of people agreeing that food waste is an important national issue, and 92% of people agreeing that everyone has a responsibility to reduce their food waste. However, there is still a gap between awareness, intention, and action, with 76% of individuals agreeing that food waste was a top priority for them, and 66% making more of an effort to reduce food waste[61].

It is unclear if this intention to reduce food waste will result in significant reductions in the amount of food waste collected by local authorities, but it was not observable in the 2021 food waste estimate or the waste composition analysis. The next opportunity to understand whether the intention to reduce food waste is resulting in actual reductions or changes in behaviour will come from the WRAP kitchen and kitchen drain diary study, published at the end of 2023.[62]

Taken together, the evidence described above indicates that, although there is some progress, there is not the required level of change across the whole food system[63] at the pace and scale that is needed.

3.2 What we have learned from progress so far

Efforts to deliver the original FWRAP actions have provided insights that will help understand progress and inform future action. The first key insight is the scale of the challenge. Despite the range of work described in the previous sections, and the success in raising awareness of food waste as an issue, the reductions needed are not being achieved. The first consultation on the Scottish Government’s Circular Economy and Waste Route Map[64] echoed these challenges. The Route Map is a vehicle to set out how the Scottish Government aims to deliver a system-wide, comprehensive vision for Scotland’s circular economy; and for food waste, this means it will highlight priority actions people and sectors across Scotland must take to upscale delivery and reduce food waste.

In addition, it is clear that there needs to be more engagement with more businesses, organisations, communities, and households to build on the success of raising awareness of the impact of food waste on our climate, society, and economy. As well as awareness of the issue, more needs to be done to remove barriers and enhance the capability, opportunity, and motivation to take action. An example of a potential barrier could be when an individual is aware of the impact of food waste, but does not have the capability or space to store or freeze food appropriately.

To take appropriate action there needs to be clear data about how much food is wasted and why it is going to waste. Only then can effective actions be taken that actively reduce food waste.

The second lesson is to develop and deliver new actions that build on best available evidence and what has been learned so far. The original FWRAP identified that reducing food waste requires action from everyone, but working together will make that easier. Actions need to happen at scale and at speed if there are to be the significant reductions required at a national level.

The third lesson is that there is no clear globally recognised roadmap to deliver food waste reduction at the scale required. Monitoring how other countries are approaching food waste has provided good examples that Scotland can learn from; however, no country has demonstrated how to consistently reduce food waste on a sufficient scale. Scotland will continue to look for innovative ways to reduce food waste and develop and implement solutions at scale and pace. Knowledge and experience will continue to evolve and, therefore, we can adapt our approach going forward as new evidence emerges.

Finally, there is no single action or legislative lever that will achieve the target. There must be coordinated, collaborative, and sustained activity involving the full cross-section of businesses, organisations, communities, and households over the next decade to create the environment required to reduce food waste and maintain it at the lowest levels possible.



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