THEY MUST have been pretty wise in the eighteenth century. Not only did the 1700s see the invention of the steam engine, the threshing machine and the start of the industrial revolution, but it is also thought to be when the phrase ‘waste not, want not’ fell into common use. It seems that the waste agenda is nothing new, then?
Yet the reality is that when it comes to the food industry, waste is still a massive issue. The UN FAO estimated in 2011 that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. When it comes to the UK, the situation is also pretty serious, and in 2012 the Hospitality and Food Service agreement (HaFSA) was created by WRAP on behalf of the four UK governments, to tackle the issue. The agreement aims to cut food and packaging waste by 5%, and increase recycling rates to 70% by 2015. Business from across the sector have signed up to the agreement, including Reynolds.
According to Charlotte Henderson, Programme Manager at WRAP, “Our estimates show that 15m tonnes of food is wasted each year, 75% of which could have been eaten. This costs around £19bn each year,” she explained. “In the hospitality and food service sector this equates to 1m tonnes a year, worth £2.5bn or an average of £10,000 per catering outlet. This is equivalent to one in every six meals served, and again three quarters of this food being wasted could have been eaten.”
There are many schools of thought on why food waste in the UK is such an issue, although most consider that it is due to the relatively low cost of food, which results in it being undervalued. Others point to the tighter quality standards and specifications required by processors and retailers, whilst portion size, storage spoilage and a mismatch between supply and demand can all contribute to unnecessary waste.
Of course, waste is not just about food, either. Waste reduction covers inputs, packaging, energy and so creating less waste delivers cost savings as well as benefits to the environment. Indeed, the very tenet of LEAN manufacturing, now so widely adopted in the food manufacturing sector, is to maximise customer value whilst minimising waste, and the mantra of most sustainability initiatives is doing ‘more for less’.
As a result, waste is more firmly on the agenda than ever before. And it doesn’t need to be difficult. “The first thing to do is monitor and measure waste levels for one or two weeks to see where waste is arising and the types of waste being produced and there are tools on the WRAP website to help,” explained Charlotte. “This can be done at an individual business level, or collaboratively with supply chain partners. The next step is then to unpick the reasons for that waste and see what you can do to minimise it.”
Waste can occur at every level of the supply chain – from primary production to storage and transport, in processing and packaging and then in the retail or food service environment.
“One of the most important things to do is communicate – within your own business and right through the supply chain,” explains Charlotte. “Not only does this help to identify opportunities to reduce waste, but it also prevents one party reducing waste in their own business that then simply increases waste in another part of the supply chain. A good example would be a wholesaler who perhaps identifies that larger pack sizes can reduce packaging waste within their own business but doesn’t speak to the customers that buy that product. They might see a cost reduction through the larger pack sizes but if the customers can’t use all of the product before it spoils, overall waste may increase, which is counter productive.”
And waste is becoming an even more important issue with the increasing push for sustainability. A growing population, climate disruption, more expensive inputs, and issues with land availability will all put pressure on food availability and it will simply not be acceptable to continue to waste food or resources in the future. Happily, it makes good commercial sense to avoid waste too, so it really is a win, win. And there are great examples of waste reduction in practice.
“We have a major programme to reduce waste across the business, with a target of zero waste to landfill,” explains Jo-Anne Baptie, Group HSE Manager at Greenvale AP, who supply Reynolds with potatoes. “We have a waste control hierarchy which focuses on prevention of waste where possible and then control of remaining waste. This hierarchy is applied at each stage of production, from field to end product, to try to prevent waste at source. We then develop action plans to ensure we know exactly what needs to be done to minimise wastage.”
Actions start before a crop is even planted. “We spend a lot of time on field selection to ensure it is suitable for the variety we want to plant in terms of soil type, irrigation potential, pest and disease risk and stones,” Jo-Anne said. “We then map fields and prepare them for sowing very carefully, using precision methods to apply fertiliser, irrigation and agrochemicals only where and when they are needed. We also provide growers with significant agronomy support to ensure that they meet the market specifications for that variety.”
When it comes to harvest, only well maintained and correctly set up machines are used, operated by well-trained and conscientious staff. “We can see real losses from crop damage at harvest and if soiling is too heavy then this has a real impact on storage, transport and processing efficiency.”
The drive for waste reduction is just as strong at the processing sites, which has led to Greenvale rolling out the installation of a cascade wash system using recycled water across its sites. “We are very fortunate in that our processing is very simple – grade, wash and pack – and anything that doesn’t meet grading requirements can either go for value lines, secondary processing or animal feed, so very little is wasted,” said Jo-Anne. “But our cascade wash has significantly reduced complaint levels and improved quality, reducing waste further down our supply chain.”
The focus on waste is equally strong at G’s Fresh, who supply Reynolds with salad crops. "The biggest waste challenges in our business are supply and demand balance and field variability" explained Ed Moorhouse, Group Technical Director at G’s. “Many of our products have a short shelf life and the weather can have a massive impact on both supply and demand profiles. If the sun shines for a weekend then salad demand increases massively, but we can’t just turn supply on and off.” G’s get around this by working hard with customers to understand the direction of the marketplace and consumption patterns, whilst basing farming operations on historic weather and production records.
With most of their products being packed in-field at the point of harvest, processing waste is minimal, but field variability can lead to product not being utilised for human consumption. To get around this G’s has invested in its own plant-raising capacity and in precision farming technology so that every plant is optimally positioned in terms of space and depth to create uniform growth. “This takes time and effort but the rewards are there to be taken – our best crops now achieve above 90% yield, which is exceptional for unprotected field crops.”
For longer life products such as onions, G’s has invested in storage technology to prevent spoilage and the business is also firmly focused on reducing waste in terms of inputs. “We have invested in an AD plant to utilise waste for energy generation, and we have a big programme on reducing energy use, including LED lighting, timer switches and trackers on machinery to reduce fuel use. We have also focused on packaging, reducing some by as much as 40% with no adverse effect on product quality or shelf life.”
What is clear then is that waste reduction is already embedded as part of best practice in many businesses. Which makes perfect sense - why use resources to produce something that ends up being thrown away, particularly with the external pressures facing us, now and into the future?
Waste not, want not, after all…
Originally published in Reynolds' Marketplace publication.