21 May 2020

Target, measure, act: tackling food waste sustainably 

SUEZ recycling and recovery UK recently hosted a webinar on “Target, measure, act: three key steps to tackling food waste sustainably”. Below is a summary of the event which heard from a panel of experts and this is contributed by SUEZ.

Since the launch of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, WRAP has been busy. Focusing on SDG 12.3, the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap (Roadmap) has been created to help businesses tackle the substantial task of reducing food waste by 50% per capita by 2030. 

A panel of experts recently participated in a webinar, hosted by letsrecycle.com and chaired by Dr Adam Read from SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, to discuss how the implementation of the Roadmap’s ‘target, measure, act’ approach will help businesses work towards the global target while saving time and money. With speakers from WRAP, the Co-op convenience stores, the food redistribution charity, FareShare and both sides of SUEZ UK operations (recycling & recovery and water technologies & solutions) in the virtual room, it was a great opportunity to discuss the key points on this hot topic, and respond to the live questions from more than 350 delegates.

Target, Measure, Act

Since the launch of the Roadmap in September 2018, WRAP have been targeting large retailers and large food sector businesses in the UK, to help them to implement the ‘target, measure, act’ approach, and with 192 businesses already signed up, they’ve been busy!

As Ashley Robb from WRAP explained, the initial step for any large business is to take a benchmark measurement of the food waste volumes produced over a 12 month period. This indicates the starting point for each business. Measurements are taken using a standardised template to ensure consistency between businesses (and maybe even drive some healthy competition). Each business then sets unique and realistic targets, breaking down the overall goal into annual targets, whilst the ‘act’ stage of the process sees businesses collaborate with organisations that have signed up to the Roadmap to implement processes that reduce their food waste.

The Target, Measure, Act programme produced by WRAP with IGD


This might include redistributing edible end of day bakery goods to organisations like FareShare, a charity that tackles the two huge issues of food waste and hunger. The charity has saved 20,000 tonnes of food that would have been waste and redistributed it as 46.5 million meal equivalents. This has helped feed 1 million people a week through the 11,000 charities they support – charities with a variety of core missions including homelessness, free school meals and addiction among others. However, we’re a long way from perfect with this solution according to Joanna Dyson from FareShare, as currently ‘only 23% of edible food waste from the supply chain is redistributed for human consumption’.

In contrast, the Co-operative convenience stores are dedicated to reducing food waste within their control with reductions of 27% through better processes, forecasting, and increased shelf life of products. They would always favour prevention according to Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager at Co-operative Group. He suggests that much of their success to date has been founded on getting more accurate data, with better granularity, as previously their insights were from weighbridge data alone. They now have reporting by weight, by product line, with improved accuracy each month, and 67% of their stores have active relationships with food redistribution groups.

Beyond the bin

It’s not just redistribution that can help save produce from the bins. WRAP’s research demonstrated that up to £1,200 per tonne was saved when waste was prevented in the manufacturing process. This is further supported by research from World Resource Institute, who took a sample across 12 countries, with 700 businesses split between 1,200 sites globally. Their research showed that for every £1 invested in measurement, monitoring, training, lean manufacturing, and primary and transit packaging, businesses saw a £14 return on investment. Great examples of this working well are the wonky fruit and veg boxes in supermarkets where not only are businesses avoiding the cost of disposal, but they’re also benefiting from the sales income.

By creating food surplus waste measurement and reporting guidelines for businesses to follow, WRAP is aiming to tackle the food waste issue head on. SUEZ’s ability to use expertise from across its waste and water solutions to assist businesses with food waste reduction across their supply chain, was a key reason for joining the Roadmap as an Enabling Partner.

As part of the Roadmap audit, measurements are taken and waste volumes are monitored across waste and water streams, enabling SUEZ to work with its customers to find ways to understand and measure their wastes. They can also review processes and equipment functionality and consider innovative on-site reduction, recycling or recovery solutions. The ‘target, measure, act’ plan gives a structure to explore food waste issues within a company and being able to sit down with customers and set realistic, measurable objectives based on the availability of their data.

This allows SUEZ to identify the key challenges, according to Ben Harding (Growth Team Leader, Water Technologies and Solutions), which may be similar across businesses but the route to making an impact can vary broadly. With waste and water analysis, all kinds of wastes are tackled at source, with process improvements and small-scale projects outlined, so the team can reduce or eliminate wastes as quickly as possible.

Depending on the type of customer, the source and types of waste can vary greatly, but  consistently using digital innovation and reviewing plant efficiencies makes a real difference. SUEZ can look at the entire supply chain from the receipt of raw produce, manufacturing ingredients or the final  products on the shelves, to the delivery process, and every step in between, so there are many solutions for all types of businesses.

Not just business

However, the biggest issue continues to be consumers with 6.6 million tonnes of food waste being produced by households. Issues such as shopping without shopping lists, storing fruit and veg in the wrong place, and in not trusting portion guidance are all key reasons why consumer food waste is so high.

Understanding of storing food in the correct place remains a challenge for some consumers (picture: Shutterstock)

In fact, when asked the primary sources of household food waste on the webinar’s live poll, the audience voted for ‘over purchasing’ and ‘over cooking’, meaning that there are some key educational pieces that need to be addressed. With local authority involvement in the Roadmap focussed on communicating to residents about food waste in the home, the baselining and measurement templates for industrial sectors are also key to making a dent in the 9.5 billion tonnes of food waste produced annually in the UK.


So, why is it only now that businesses are stepping up and addressing food waste? Some businesses think they don’t have any waste, while some simply don’t have the resources to deal with it. Though with (slightly delayed) mandated food waste collections from residential and commercial properties on the horizon, it is key that we all start making small, sustainable – and measured – steps, together.

Huge thanks again to all the panellists on the webinar: Joanna Dyson, FareShare; Iain Ferguson, Co-operative Group; Ashley Robb, WRAP; Ben Harding, SUEZ Water Technologies and Solutions; and to our chair and host Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.

For more information on SUEZ’ food waste work click HERE.


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