Exploring Ways to Reduce Food Waste - Biffa

Rethinking food waste at COP28

11 Dec 2023
5 mins
Following COP28 delegates meeting to discuss sustainable food consumption, we take a look at some of the ways we need to rethink food waste in order to achieve Waste Net Zero. 
Food Waste
Circular Economy

The COP28 climate talks in Dubai have put a renewed emphasis on the international food system, and we wholly welcome the UN FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organisation) aim of halving food waste by 2030. 

The scale of the problem is clear. Every tonne of food waste ending up in landfill produces approximately 4.2 tonnes of greenhouse gases. The UK wastes almost 9.5 million tonnes of food every year. 6.4 million of that is edible food – not including from farms – signalling a challenge which has environmental, economic, and social consequences, especially at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet. 

The challenge will be to turn intent into action. Indeed, we would urge policymakers to go further – and to more roundly consider how the creation of a truly circular food economy would benefit consumers, producers, and the planet.

Rethinking Food Waste 

As the conversations at COP28 have hinted, we need to think of new ways to not just reduce food waste but to ensure any food waste that does occur is used for sustainable purposes. That means thinking about both prevention, and how to utilise food which naturally comes to the end of its lifecycle. 

Vegetable food waste
The power of surplus food 
From a prevention point of view, the reinforcement of the food waste hierarchy has been hugely important and helped retailers, producers and consumers to rethink how they view food. For example, Company Shop Group (CSG), part of the Biffa group, is the UK’s leading redistributor of surplus food & household products. Last year, CSG redistributed 109 million surplus products, saving over 41,000 tonnes of waste, while also helping its members to save over £100m on their shopping. In doing so, more than £39m was paid back to the industry for the stock, supporting a circular system.
This work also helps to power Community Shop, a network of social supermarkets and community development hubs that support over 28,000 households per year across the country. CSG’s work shows how acting in an environmentally conscious way can benefit businesses and families as much as it does the planet – with 103,612 tonnes CO2 saved – and more widely the enormous potential of surplus redistribution in this conversation.  
Company shop store
Surplus food products at one of our Company Shop stores.
Packaging, policy and energy 
To complement this, we need to rethink how we package our food, and how this can be altered to reduce waste. By moving away from giving produce Best Before dates which are not totally accurate, and shifting towards the sale of loose, fresh produce – as opposed to ‘bundled’ choices which are often bigger than consumers need – we can help push the packaging and consumption of food in a more sustainable direction.  

The introduction of Food Waste Reporting is another lever that is intended to make producers and businesses more mindful of their food waste, thereby shifting behaviour and hopefully reducing rates of needless waste. With a unique end-to-end offer, Biffa and CSG are standing ready to support industry regardless of whether this reporting is made mandatory or voluntary. Additionally, the government’s Simpler Recycling reforms are designed to help make guidance on food waste and disposal clearer for consumers and businesses alike.  

Even with all of this, there will be times when food does come to a natural end of its edible life cycle.  When that happens Anaerobic Digestion (AD) can play a key role in ensuring that even this is not wasted and is used for sustainable purposes. Using AD, for example at Biffa’s Poplars plant in Cannock, we can generate renewable bio-methane from food and green waste we receive. This technology generates biogas used to power our sites and any surplus is diverted to the national grid, meaning even when food stops being edible, it never stops being useful.  

This year’s COP has once again highlighted the need to drastically rethink how our food system operates. Reducing food waste is integral to this discussion, and presents a number of opportunities. If we can seize them, we will be one step closer to creating a truly circular economy and achieving Waste Net Zero

Company Shop Group

Surplus stock isn't waste, it's an opportunity and, through our surplus redistribution business Company Shop Group, we're committed to changing the way businesses think about it.