Beneath the bin lid

Posted on 29 Nov 2013 by The Manufacturer

In the wake of the release of results for phase two of the Courtauld Agreement to reduce food waste in the UK, Will Stirling asks what food manufacturers are doing to contribute. He discovers 2013 has been a landmark year for the reduction of waste in the food supply chain.

Food waste in the UK is a dreadful blight, the bare facts of our wanton profligacy are enough to turn the stomach.

In January, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers published a report, Global food: Waste Not Want Not that underlined the dire state of the human population’s food resource efficiency.

It found that as much as 50% of all food produced around the world never reaches a human stomach due to issues as varied as inadequate infrastructure and storage facilities through to overly strict sell-by dates and buy-one-get-one free offers.

In spite of – or indeed because of – these findings, 2013 was a landmark year for addressing waste in the food industry.

The IMechE study had a profound effect, says Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IMechE, being cited in more than 1,000 articles in the UK and referenced liberally around the world by the UN, EU and non-governmental organisatons. “What made it stand out more than any other [report], arguably, was that it came from an engineering institution, which was why many people paid attention to it,” says Dr Fox.

This year, organisations including the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Food & Drink Federation soldiered on with their own campaigns to reduce waste in food manufacture and consumption. WRAP stewards the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement designed to improve resource efficiency and reduce waste in the UK grocery industry.

Courtauld Phase 1 showed that 670,000 tonnes of food waste and 520,000 tonnes of packaging were avoided across the UK between 2005 and 2009. Phase 2 results, released this week, showed a further reduction of 7 million tonnes of packaging waste, the equivalent of 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 since 2010. Avoidable household food waste dropped by 5.3%, although total household food waste fell short of its 4% reduction target

In October, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain Tesco announced it was dropping certain food promotions after finding that two-thirds of produce grown for bagged salad is wasted, and revealing food waste data for its operations for the first time.

Tesco revealed that 68% of bagged salad was thrown out – 35% of it in the home – that 40% of its apples were wasted and just under half of bakery items.

While consumers and supermarkets are targeted as the chief villains, manufacturing practices also bear much of the blame for aggregate food waste.

WRAP estimates that the UK food and drink manufacturing sector could save about 720,000 tonnes, equating to £404 million, a year by implementing operational improvements and becoming more resource efficient. Packaging is singled out.

Courtauld Commitment Phase 2

Phase 2 progress

(against a 2009 baseline)

Total reductions achieved

to end 2011

2012 targets
Packaging 10% 10%
Household food and drink waste 3.7% 4%
Supply chain product and packaging waste 7.4% 5%


So is all the action making a difference?

“I applaud it but is not enough,” says Friends of the Earth food campaigner Vicki Hird, speaking from a London event aiming to feed pigs with restaurant waste: “The Government needs to set higher targets. I would love to see WRAP, for example, name and shame food waste statistics by company, and landfill needs to be more expensive.”

But, as Dr Tim Fox says, whether proven as a response to the IMechE Global food: Waste Not Want Not, or coincidental, a huge amount has happened in 2013, nationally and globally, to begin to erode the food waste mountain.

The Manufacturer chews down on some food companies who deserve treats for reducing food waste in 2013:

Case studies:

The restaurant – McDonald’s UK

250 of McDonald’s UK restaurants now send their waste to power stations to generate electricity.

McDonald’s now recycles 13,000 tonnes of cardboard outer packaging a year, as well as used cooking oil, grease trough waste and plastic milk bottles.

The used cooking oil is recycled and turned into biodiesel, which supplies around 50% of the fuel used by our distribution fleet.

The restaurant chain separates kitchen food waste in its Scottish restaurants, which is sent in sealed containers for anaerobic digestion. From March 2014, it will be backhauling kitchen food waste from all restaurants across Scotland, England and Wales in this way.

Could do better: It is still far too easy for food and liquid waste to be trashed in the same bins as recyclable paper and plastic waste in restaurants. Ice could be poured into a sink – ditto all fast food restaurants.

The drinks company Carlsberg UK


By modifying their malt process, Carlsberg UK is diverting 260 tonnes of waste from energy recovery, and saving £50,000 per year. 

Incoming grain for brewing, or malt, is checked for quality before use. The filtering and de-stoning process rejects malt along with stones and other impurities detected. About 260 tonnes of reject malt was being sent to Energy Recovery, a contracted firm, at a cost of £85,540 a year including disposal. Examination of the reject malt found that the reject product contained 95% product and only 5% impurities.

The sandwich maker Greencore Group

Greencore Group has implemented eight waste initiatives at their sandwich manufacturing factory near Worksop, Notts.

Each initiative is categorised by product material:

1. Bread: Greencore targeted reduction of waste at source. With other actions, it realised savings of over 600 tonnes per year.

2. Egg mayo: buckets for egg mayonnaise are no longer used; instead, mayo is delivered in bags and mixed with eggs on site. This has resulted in savings of 64.7 tonnes of plastic.

3. Sandwiches: over-produced sandwiches have been diverted from waste (as these are now being collected and sent for redistribution for human consumption), leading to savings of 40 tonnes a year.

The SME – MacSween

Since 2011 Edinburgh-based haggis maker MacSween has applied ways of increasing the quality of waste water, so reducing effluent treatment costs.

The family business had achieved limited success with removing fat, but at the end of 2012 it made a large investment in an on-site effluent treatment system which began operating in June 2013.

Since late 2012, the firm have worked with Zero Waste Scotland, part of the Scottish Government, to identify a means of re-using plastic waste sent to landfill.