The current scale of food loss and waste
Food waste and loss is a significant issue across the world and a substantial contributor to issues such as lack of food security, pressure on waste disposal, emissions, and damage to biodiversity. According to the UNEP’s most recent Food Waste Index Report conducted in 2021, around 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019[i]. Of this, 61% came from households, 26% from food service and 13% from retail. Overall, the UNEP suggest that almost a fifth (17%) of total global food production may ultimately be wasted[ii].
What is the 123 pledge?
Announced during COP27, the 123 Pledge hopes to accelerate the action required to reduce food loss and waste worldwide by encouraging and challenging those involved in the food system (such as governments, businesses, and farmers) to commit to concrete steps that will see the reduction of food loss and waste become part of their strategy in reducing GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions. The initiative is coordinated by Champions 12.3, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Additionally, it is supported by WRAP, WWF and Rabobank.
Those committing to the ‘123 Pledge’ must meet several requirements designed to ensure impact, progress and transparency toward a worldwide goal of halving food loss and waste by 2030, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. According to a press release by WRAP, these commitments must include a climate angle, be timebound, and measurable. Further, those taking the Pledge must commit to providing annual progress reports to the Food Is Never Waste Coalition or to Champions 12.3. These annual progress reports will then contribute to the Global Stocktake (GST), which will conclude at COP28 in 2023.
WRAP states that commitments must also tie to at least one of five priority areas[iii]:
- Integrating food loss and waste reduction into country and company climate strategies;
- Reducing food loss and waste along supply chains;
- Stimulating action at the national and subnational (city) level;
- Measuring, reporting and creating policy and regulatory frameworks for food loss and waste reduction; and
- Supporting behaviour change at the consumer level through awareness, education and enabling conditions.
Richard Swannell, Interim CEO, WRAP has said:
“I fully support the ‘123 Pledge’ given the critical importance of tackling food loss and waste if we are to deliver against our collective climate goals. To deliver this, we need action across the supply chain, from farm to fork. Helping citizens and companies reduce food loss and waste has never been more salient given the global food crises we are all facing.” He added: “WRAP will work with governments, businesses and people to reduce costly food waste at home and across the supply chain as part of our shared global ambition to reduce the enormous contribution food waste makes to climate change and keeping 1.5 alive.”[iv]
Food waste costing UK businesses dearly
The 123 Pledge comes at the same time as a new study by Keenan Recycling highlights the significant cost food waste creates. Their recent survey found that UK businesses spend an average of £50,862 a year on sending food waste to landfill[v]. They estimate that by recycling food waste, companies could save £7,000 a year. Concerningly, however, the study revealed that 38% of businesses surveyed felt recycling food waste was not a core priority, and 27% stated that their company was not recycling any food at all.
Managing director Grant Keenan said:
“With pending legislative change and pressure for organisations to make public their own net-zero plans, food recycling will be key to how commercial operations function sustainably in the future, so the best time to become involved with it is now.”[vi]
Further results from the study found that 62% of businesses were currently working to understand food waste issues, whilst 58% were concerned about the carbon emissions from sending food waste to landfills. Concerningly, 99% of businesses had little or no understanding of upcoming changes to waste collection, where Defra plans to implement separate food waste collections as part of the 2018 resources and waste strategy[vii].
It is hoped that the 123 pledge will help both companies and consumers cut back on waste by educating and encouraging actions that will help them understand how to ensure more of what they buy gets used. Retailers, governments and industry organisations can help companies better understand how to reduce waste and promote the cost savings that can be obtained.