In our latest blog, we are revisiting the growing challenge of food waste. In March 2021, the UNEP Food Waste Index Report found that between 8 – 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that has not been consumed.
According to the sustainability charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), around one-third of all food produced goes to waste, about 1.3 billion tonnes each year which is enough to feed every hungry mouth on the planet.
Even though the UK has dialled back on its food waste of late, we still throw away a whopping 6.4 million tonnes of edible food each year – about 71% of which happens within households.
Food waste also occurs within all stages of the food production process, from agriculture to post-harvest-and-slaughter processing, to packaging, and distribution to market.
Our original food waste blog explored different methods for reducing food waste, and how different technologies and techniques can lessen its impact on the environment.
Here are the biggest challenges for manufacturers looking to reduce the amount of food waste they produce and advice on how we can take action.
1. Perishability – wasting resources
The biggest cause of waste is perishability, those foods with the shortest shelf life or that are easily damaged are the most susceptible. The result is water, energy, and space resources are wasted in producing and distributing food that will never be eaten. Food waste costs money for manufacturers as it increases food prices and also has a severe impact on the environment.
2. Decomposing – releasing greenhouse gases
A large amount of food that is purchased often ends up in the refuse bin, either as leftovers or it is thrown out as it is no longer fresh. As this decomposes, a large amount of methane is produced – which as we know is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Composting food waste properly can help to avoid the creation of methane as the food gets to break down aerobically, creating carbon dioxide instead, which is a much less powerful greenhouse gas.
3. Packaging – from shelf to bin
Only 62% of packaging waste from all sectors in the UK is recycled, which is increased to 67% if we consider energy recovery. 78% of this is paper, glass and plastic, which food packaging is a part of.
Clearly, it is not just food products that fill our bins, it is also the packaging that comes with it. It’s difficult to determine how much food packaging we throw out each year, but it does account for a significant proportion of our domestic waste. Consumer awareness in planning more carefully when shopping can help reduce such waste. Adopting a packaging-free, or packaging-reduced lifestyle where possible, or even using biodegradable and environmental-friendly and sustainable packaging, will help both the producer and consumer to reduce their environmental impact.
4. Recycling – waste food into energy
Food waste does have the potential to be converted into energy, for example it can generate biodiesel, which is produced from waste cooking oil and can be used in diesel engines.
Unfortunately, there will only be enough recycled frying oil to power a tiny proportion of vehicles, and the rest of the world’s biodiesel comes from food crops. These plant-based alternatives often have a larger carbon footprint due to clearing of rainforest to make way for agricultural land.
Another method for converting food waste into energy is through the use of an anaerobic digester. When food waste is at landfill, it decomposes and releases methane; the anaerobic digestion system captures the methane that is otherwise released into the atmosphere. Organic food waste that is digested under anaerobic conditions can provide sources of renewable energy such as methane-rich biogas, which can then be used to power electricity generators and provide heat – the residuals can also be re-used as fertiliser for crops.
Taking individual action
The average UK household throws away £500 worth of edible food each year. The best way individuals can personally take responsibility for their own food waste is through precise food and meal planning before buying, including making use of leftovers rather than letting them sit in the fridge or cupboard decaying. Improper food storage also causes food to spoil at a faster rate, and where suitable, the freezer should be used to prolong the life of foods that are likely to go stale.
The way that food is grown and produced means it will always have some level of detrimental impact on the environment, as energy is consumed during every stage of its life cycle. Add to this, the wide use of plastics to packaged food, and the wastage from, is having a growing impact on global warming.
It’s vital that businesses and individuals acknowledge this and take responsibility for reducing food waste at every stage of the food process, from the farm, through production, transportation, distribution and of course, in their home.
Integrated Food Projects have partnered with Kettleby Foods on a number of high-profile multi-million pound capital projects since 2003/4, helping the business to develop and grow. Throughout that time they have provided cost-effective and efficient solutions on development projects both at our existing ready meals production facility and also in creating a new satellite facility. The projects at our existing facility were managed without impact on our ability to service our own clients, and all projects have been delivered within budget, in a timely fashion and to the requisite standards of safety and quality. Their team work ethos and professional approach ensure successful projects and I would utilise Integrated Food Projects in the future without hesitation.
- Jarrod Thorndyke, Production Director
I have worked with Integrated Food Projects on many capital expenditure projects since 2004, the latest being the development of the new plot of land adjacent to our main site. They successfully employed a project delivery process to ensure the integration of a leased modular building solution with the development of the site infrastructure to improve logistics and Health and Safety. Their staff are always positive and enthusiastic and have fostered a team-work approach ensuring another successful project delivered. I look forward to working with them again in the near future.
- Engineering Manager, Major UK Ready Meals Manufacturer