Wasted opportunity: Why isn’t excess food higher on Cop26 agenda?

In the UK, food waste accounts for between 6% and 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with an estimated 2m tonnes of perfectly edible food needlessly wasted

Sally Webb
Friday 12 November 2021 11:02 GMT
<p>James Persad is urging lawmakers to prioritise tackling food waste</p>

James Persad is urging lawmakers to prioritise tackling food waste

A food charity is calling on politicians, food producers and consumers to tackle food waste if they are serious about confronting climate change.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of carbon globally, yet the issue has been largely ignored in climate discussions at Cop26, according to food charity FareShare.

James Persad, Head of Marketing and Engagement at FareShare, said: “Even if you take all the other big emitters out of the picture, food production alone would push the earth past 1.5 degrees of warming – yet food waste has effectively been frozen out of talks at Cop26.

“Food is extraordinarily resource-intensive to produce – which is why it’s heartbreaking to see so much of it being wasted – with all the energy and water used to create it wasted too.”

Considering the environmental impact of food waste, why does it not grab people’s attention in the same way as issues like emissions and ocean pollution?

“The honest answer is I just don’t know,” Mr Persad admits. “I don’t know if it’s because food is taken for granted.

“In the UK, food waste accounts for between 6 and 7 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, with an estimated two million tonnes of perfectly edible food needlessly wasted on UK farms and in factories every year, instead of being sent to charities and community groups.

“It’s a big and thorny issue and we are astonished it hasn’t been addressed more formally at Cop26.”

A staggering amount of food is thrown away in the UK

While consumers can take steps to reduce food waste and vote with their wallets to pressure food producers with high levels of waste, James says the government must do more to incentivise food redistribution.

He praised plans to ask big food producers to publish food waste data from 2023 onwards and hopes that transparency will force them to find ways to become more efficient.

Mr Persad added: “A key barrier is cost. To keep food safe for human distribution is that bit much more than any other option because you need to store it safely and take temperature checks. We want to see food businesses and the government contribute towards these costs.

“Meaningful action on food waste will be crucial if we are to achieve Net Zero. We’re calling on government to take this issue seriously and commit to fair funding to enable food businesses do the right thing, morally and environmentally, with their surplus food.

“It is proven that getting food to people is the most environmentally-friendly option.”

The charity released new data on Friday from The Carbon Trust, showing that for every one tonne of edible food redistributed to people instead of being wasted, 1.6 tonnes of embedded CO2 equivalent within that food will not have been emitted in vain.

The independent research quantifies, for the first time, the ‘hidden’ carbon embedded within the life cycle of the food FareShare redistributes, arising from the energy used in everything from cultivation and harvesting to packaging and transportation.

The research also finds that, for every tonne of food sent to charities, the needless loss of 1,525,000 litres of water needed to produce that food will also be avoided.

Last year FareShare redistributed over 35,000 tonnes of surplus food, avoiding the waste of over 53bn litres of water – more than the combined annual water usage of everyone in the cities of Birmingham and Coventry.

FareShare is the UK’s biggest food charity. It takes surplus good-to-eat food from the food industry, sorts it in one of its 30 regional warehouses, and passes it onto a network of more than 10,500 charities and charity groups, including food banks, hostels, refuges, pantries, community centres, older people’s lunch clubs and breakfast and after school clubs for children.

The Independent, in partnership with sister title Evening Standard, raised more than £10m to feed the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable people during the Covid crisis.

The Help the Hungry appeal supplied more than 20 million meals during the pandemic. The campaign saw both titles partner with The Felix Project, a charity redistributing surplus food collected from supermarkets and restaurants to those in dire need of help.

And writing yesterday in The Independent, Ban Ki-moon, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, outlined how food and farming are both a driver of and a solution to the climate crisis.

The 77-year-old humanitarian states that unless we change how we currently produce, process, transport, consume and discard food, we will not make any headway on climate change mitigation and adaptation, what he calls the “defining issue of our time”.

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