24 February 2021

Opinion: ‘Councils are unsung heroes in reducing food waste’

With Food Waste Action Week beginning on 1 March, Sarah Clayton, head of citizen behaviour at WRAP, examines what the resources charity wants to achieve with its event.


OPINION: It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt your mindset when faced with new situations and information.

Watching films or TV from the pre-Covid world makes me slightly uncomfortable, looking at how closely together people are standing, with not a facemask in sight – unthinkable! This is exactly the kind of feeling I hope people will experience when they think of good, edible food ending up in the bin.

Sarah Clayton is head of citizen behaviour at WRAP

Every year UK households waste 4.5 million tonnes of good food which could have been eaten– enough to fill 38 million standard household wheelie bins.

This is something we urgently need to address, since the food itself isn’t all that is wasted. Think of all the effort and energy that goes into food production. This accounts for 30% of all global greenhouse gas emissions; since a third of the food produced globally is wasted, that means a third of those emissions are created in vain.

Water, soil, land, and time are all things we cannot afford to waste, and yet we do, every time food ends up in the bin – green, blue, brown, black, or otherwise.

Food Waste Action Week

For the inaugural Food Waste Action Week, WRAP is challenging the UK to champion this precious resource and encourage people to waste less. From businesses and universities to people at home, we’re covering every base to ensure as many people as possible hear this message. And as far as WRAP is concerned, local authorities are major players here.

“For the inaugural Food Waste Action Week, WRAP is challenging the UK to champion precious resources”

Sarah Clayton, WRAP

Local councils influence so much of our day-to-day lives, whether that’s the neighbourhood roads we drive on, what work we can have done on the house, or indeed what bins our different items go in. This gives them a great opportunity to help residents waste less food at home. Between 2015 and 2018, food wasted annually in the UK reduced by nearly half a million tonnes, but while fantastic progress has been made there is certainly more to do.

An obvious route to achieving this is providing food waste recycling – something which we outlined in our framework for greater consistency. Across the UK, this is catching on fast. All local councils in Wales and Northern Ireland provide food waste collections, and this is set to extend to all councils in England in the next few years too, according to Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy, while over half of Scottish households now recycle their food waste. This certainly helps, as it simply removes any legitimate reason for food to be discarded in a general waste bin.

In the meantime, councils all have a vital communication corridor with residents, which can be used to cement the good food management behaviours we saw people adopt in the early stages of lockdown. From bin tags and stickers to vehicle livery and bus stop posters, local authorities have at their disposal several effective methods for sharing messages directly with residents, reinforcing the message that ‘wasting food feeds climate change’.

Climate change

Demand for water supplies, land, and fertile soil will only increase as the consequences of climate change worsen. The fact that across the world we take these resources so much for granted is shocking, but to tackle a global problem we need local solutions. Wasting less food is everyone’s responsibility, and local authorities can shine a light on this better than anyone. After all, which other stakeholder has such an influence over people’s bins? There’s one in every kitchen, and since this room is the heart of the home, that means local authorities are right there, too.

This Food Waste Action Week, I hope to see lots of local authorities joining the likes of Hampshire County Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and Leicestershire County Council in supporting our work. Throughout the week we will share tips and advice for all citizens – north, south, east, and west – so that together we can start to make wasting food a thing of the past.

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