Waste has emerged as one of the defining sustainability issues of our modern food system. Up to half the food produced globally is never consumed. In the UK, 12 million tonnes of food is thrown away annually – yet most of this is avoidable. Over 10 per cent of food waste produced comes from the Education Sector, this is despite the fact that food waste ranks as a sustainability issue of high importance among universities.
The fact that we have a problem is not up for debate. However, what to do about it is far less clear cut, not least in England where there is a lack of legislation, leaving it lagging behind Scotland and Wales. In fact, Scotland has announced a food waste reduction target of 33 per cent by 2025, making it the first country in Europe to do so.
In England, there are proposals for a new food waste bill with plans to force supermarkets, manufacturers and distributors to cut food waste by 30 per cent by 2025. It isn’t yet clear whether caterers would be included in this, but our research suggests that voluntary agreements are not working.
So what are the challenges that we face when attempting to cut food waste?
- Front of house and student engagement – overwhelmingly the greatest challenge is encouraging students to change their behaviour.
- Cost – financing infrastructure or student engagement campaigns can be prohibitively expensive for universities on tight budgets.
- Data collection and analysis – capturing data on waste can be complex and is often dismissed as being too time-consuming.
- Operations and logistics – the diversity of operations can create logistical barriers to initiatives.
- The legislative landscape – there is currently no one model, with some countries favouring regulations and other voluntary agreements to reduce waste. There isn’t a decision on which is best.
These are not easy challenges to overcome, however, some universities are deploying innovative solutions and taking steps in the right direction. From getting students to realise how much food they are throwing away to running campaigns that encourage staff to talk to consumers about what they really want to see on their plate, it all helps to cut down what goes in the bin.
But the devil's in the detail.