DEFRA announces plans to tackle food waste

Organic waste to make compost Print publication


Government has recently announced its strategy to reduce food waste (“Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England“) and followed it up with the launch of the “Step up to the Plate Pledge” (the Pledge) which asks FBOs (amongst others) to make commitments to measure and reduce food waste. If you also take into account a recent speech by Michael Gove asking major businesses to accept a challenge to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030, it is clear that food waste is a very hot topic.

The Pledge is the first phase of Government’s wider strategy to eliminate avoidable waste by 2050 and to eliminate sending food waste to landfill by 2030. The second phase of the strategy is to introduce reporting requirements for food waste and setting waste prevention targets. To that end DEFRA has announced that consultations will be held later in 2019 into:

  • the introduction of regulations to make annual reporting of food surplus and waste mandatory for larger FBOs; and
  • the setting of mandatory food waste prevention targets for appropriate FBOs and the introduction of surplus food redistribution obligations.

Assuming that these reporting requirements and prevention targets are introduced, it is as yet unclear how they will be policed and whether there will be repercussions for FBOs that fail to meet the targets or comply with the reporting requirements. There is also scant detail on the proposed obligations regarding the redistribution of surplus food. However, until the outcome of the consultations is known, FBOs are being encouraged to voluntarily report on their annual food waste.

In addition to the proposed reporting requirements, prevention targets and food surplus obligations, Government has also published its “Statutory Guidance on Food & Drink Hierarchy” effective from the start of 2019 which sets out the following prioritised list of options which FBOs should adopt when managing surplus food and waste:

  • prevent surplus and waste
  • redistribute surplus food
  • make animal feed from former food
  • recycle food waste – anaerobic digestion
  • recycle food waste – composting
  • recycle food waste – landspreading
  • incinerate to generate energy
  • incinerate without generating energy
  • send to landfill or sewer

The guidance is statutory (and therefore binding). FBOs should apply the options in the order that they are listed however the extent to which compliance with the hierarchy is achieved falls to the FBOs themselves. Government will review the implementation of the hierarchy in 2020.

WM Comment

Government proposals to reduce food waste will have significant implications for the food and drink industry, particularly if non-compliance with reduction targets attracts enforcement and sanctions. FBOs would be well advised to start planning now rather than wait for the proposals to become law.