A plan to tackle food waste to be unveiled at COP26 today recommends reduction targets for supermarkets, councils and hospitality. 

Food loss and waste make up 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and globally more than a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year. This has prompted a plan to address the issue and includes research by an Aberystwyth University academic. 

Dr Siobhan Maderson, from the university’s department of geography and earth sciences, said producers, including farmers and retailers, can significantly reduce harmful emissions by tackling food waste rather than leaving the issue to individual consumers or households. 

The recommendations will be released at COP26, the global climate summit entering its second week in Glasgow today. Dr Maderson said: “COP26 is an urgent opportunity to get countries to reduce their greenhouse gases, and decreasing food loss and waste is a key part of that.  

“If food loss and waste were represented as a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, causing 10 per cent of global emissions.” 

The plan proposes mandatory measuring, stating and reduction of food loss and waste in supplier-retailer contracts as well as annual reduction targets for supermarkets, councils and hospitality who would also have to disclose all food loss. 

READ MORE: What is the genuine cost of food waste?

The policy proposals, which appear in a report funded by a prize from UK Research and Innovation’s Global Food Security Programme, also include reviewing regulations on food waste disposal and how it can be reused such as animal feed. 

Other recommendations include supporting more efficient, less wasteful supply chains through increased public procurement directly from suppliers and standardised definitions and terminology for classifying food loss, waste, surplus, inedible parts and destinations of food loss and waste. 

In Wales food waste is collected separately from around 99 per cent of homes with most of it treated at anaerobic digestion plants to be turned into biogas and fertiliser with the Welsh Government also encouraging home composting. You can read more about anaerobic digestion here.

Better knowledge of how to prepare food would also help individuals waste less though time, skills and how food is purchased are all barriers acknowledge by the authors who say use by dates on packaging and large portion sizes add to the problem. 

But Dr Maderson said to really tackle the issue there needs to be a focus on food production: “At the moment, most of the work on decreasing food waste is focused on consumers and householders, but our research points to waste and inefficiencies throughout the food system, including on the farm, and as a result of highly restrictive contractual specifications between suppliers and retailers.” 

READ MORE: FareShare Cymru:Where surplus food meets people in need

As well as reducing waste the research also considered the ‘true cost’ of food – such as further impacts on the environment and human health – should also be calculated. 

“The price of high-fat and high-sugar foods do not include the costs of the health service treating illnesses resulting from diets high in these foods, and the price of meat not including the costs of dealing with negative environmental impacts from livestock farming,” said Dr Maderson. 

“We need to develop systems that can overcome siloed thinking about the causes and responsibility for food loss and waste, and support collaborative efforts to make food systems more environmentally efficient, and socially just.” 

READ MORE: Peter Fox MS says local food has many benefits

The cost of food and the ease it which it can be bought should also be considered: “Almost unlimited accessibility to inexpensive, globally produced food also disconnects consumers from the true value and impact of their food, and the value lost when wasting it. 

“Importantly, we need to look beyond individual household waste, and address loss and waste at all points in the food system. Large, complex supply chains result in overproduction and overstocking. Unavoidable waste, as well as spoiled or damaged food is usually sent to landfill, due to current regulations on repurposing food loss and waste.” 

The bosses of five of the UK’s biggest supermarkets promised at the weekend to halve the environmental impact of a weekly food shop by the end of this decade. 

Chief executives from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Co-op and M&S said they would work with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to reduce natural destruction. 

The shops also promised that before the end of next year they would set science-based targets to help keep global warming below 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures with other targets related to the impact on the environment. 

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