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Sodexo research suggests the link between food waste and carbon emissions is still not understood

Businesses in the food service sector will not achieve carbon net zero goals without urgently turning their attention to the issue of food waste. This is the stark warning from Sodexo, which has launched its ‘Appetite for Action’ campaign.

The catering and facilities management business commissioned a new study examining food buying trends amongst some of the largest private and public sector organisations in the UK, finding that nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of senior decision makers in the supply chain and in food procurement are currently not tracking the amount of food their organisation wastes.

These findings, according to Sodexo, demonstrate that while the connection between day-to-day activities such as air travel and carbon emissions is well understood, food waste has yet to sufficiently cut through. This is despite WRAP’s data suggesting total food waste in the UK amounts to 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and the government planning to consult on the potential of mandating food waste reporting.

Sodexo, which has pledged to cut its own food waste by 50 per cent by 2025 – using WasteWatch technology powered by LeanPath – found that just 26 per cent of food procurement professionals prioritise food waste in achieving carbon reduction goals.

More encouragingly though, the majority (93 per cent) of respondents said they are considering changing their organisation’s procurement criteria to reduce food waste in the next 12 months, with almost the same proportion saying they will be tracking food waste by 2025 (94 per cent).

The study’s findings, however, clearly show that organisations are looking for outside assistance to help them achieve the necessary cuts in food waste, with almost two-thirds (64 per cent) suggesting direction from government needs to be made clearer through stronger policy and regulation. A similar proportion (62 per cent) said government advice on how to use technology would be helpful whilst 63 per cent also believe carbon labelling on meals would instigate behavioural change.

Sean Haley, Chairman at Sodexo UK & Ireland, commented: “Food waste is a problem long before consumers scrape leftovers off their plate. There is currently wastage at every stage of the food system from farm to fork – this requires urgent intervention.
“We feel strongly that every organisation that procures food at volume should commit to, and crucially action, a 50 er cent reduction in food waste by 2030 at the latest in line with the UN’s SDGs – although our own target is five years earlier than that.
“The first step towards cutting food waste is tracking and monitoring it – we are seeing significant results from this approach. While tackling food waste alone is not the silver bullet, it is a key component of our net zero ambition, enabling us to live up to our broader purpose of continuing to support and improve the communities in which we live, work and serve.”

Food waste is an indefensible issue in light of the climate crisis, with a United Nations study suggesting that if food waste was a country then it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the US. But food procurement and supply chain heads face enormous challenges, one of which being the recent transition to hybrid working. Over half (60 per cent) said hybrid work environments make it difficult for businesses to plan how many diners they’ll have each day. The same proportion (60 per cent) also said using food that might otherwise have been wasted (e.g. vegetable peelings) on menus has an image problem for consumers – but it’s one they want to change.

It’s clear more urgent action on food waste is needed, with just 13 per cent of survey respondents suggesting their employees are aware that minimising food waste can help their organisation to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

Keith James, Head of Policy and Insights at WRAP commented: “This report from Sodexo makes for interesting reading and given the impact of Covid-19 we know many businesses are finding it hard to focus on outside asks, such as reducing their carbon emissions, when they have been struggling to keep their doors open.
“But with greenhouse gas emissions from total UK food waste equivalent to that of 16 million cars, we all must focus on making whatever difference we can. That is why WRAP introduced the Guardians of Grub campaign to help support wider sector movement right now towards the goals of the Courtauld Commitment 2030 voluntary agreement, of which Sodexo is a very active partner.”

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