Food waste, Loss, Surplus, and Valorisation Innovation Forum

By Jordon Lazell @jlazell

In order to further any topic of concern, first you must gather experts to understand where current knowledge lies and where the research agenda should go next. Last week I was invited to a workshop thats purpose was to generate research questions to tackle the problem of food waste. Organised by Christian Reynolds and hosted by SheFF, the University of Sheffield’s Sustainable Food Future group, the forum brought together academics and practitioners working the areas of food waste, loss, surplus, valorisation and overconsumption to clarify and narrow down the UK and wider global research agenda into the most important and most impactful research questions.


Before the event 102 people submitted their top research questions electronically, these were grouped into 48 different topic areas. The first task of the day was to amalgamate similar questions and acclimatised ourselves with the range of topics under consideration. Each participant then selected the three questions they deemed most critical. After re-writing and re-wording questions to ensure their premise was clear, we were left with 49 questions all of which were key priorities, yet this number still had to be halved. To achieve this, each participant gave a score of 1 (of least importance) to 4 (of most importance) to each question, with factors such as how achievable the question is and the level of impact it could deliver also considered. After the scores were tallied we were left with a final 25, that after some further polishing, were finalised.


At points this was not an easy process, there were several subjects of debate. For example how preventing food waste in one area of the supply chain may have knock on effects elsewhere. Discussions also featured the need for the questions to be representative of both developed and developing world context, such as being inclusive of consumers who mainly consume food they produce themselves, amongst other points.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day. I was struck by how involving this method of ‘brainstorming’ proved to be, with no single voice being considered above the rest. The suggestions made by each participant were equally considered via the democratic process of voting. I really enjoyed discussing the intricacies of the research questions proposed with the others at the event and it was fantastic to see the breadth of issues that were initially submitted, ranging from the role that insect eating could play to the usage of eye tracking marketing to food waste measurement models, the influence of gender and different cultures to urbanisation, packaging aesthetics and even a type of African mould. It was a tough challenge to narrow down the questions, but through Christian’s guidance and adherence to a clear process, collectively the output was a succinct and representative list of priority questions which are critical in taking forward to tackle the problem of food waste across all stages of the supply chain.

A report and journal paper is currently in preparation with the key questions to be disseminated soon.

The shocking amount of food wasted at Christmas and how to prevent it

By Jordon Lazell @jlazell

Its Christmas time and the problem of food waste rears its head once again. Households are continuing to throw away vast amounts of perfectly editable food and the festive season is a key culprit.

It is estimated that a staggering 74 million minced pies are thrown away each Christmas and 4.2 million plates of turkeys and trimmings are also going straight in the bin. This isn’t just a shocking waste of the time, money and effort put into growing, manufacturing, transporting and cooking food that is ultimately wasted but this also has a detrimental impact on the environment given that food and drink accounts for 20% of the UK’s CO2 emissions.

So why are we wasting so much food over this period? There is no simple explanation. Many of the reasons stem from why food is wasted throughout the year. This includes over purchasing, improper food storage, poor planning and a lack of understanding of date labelling amongst other factors. However there are some reasons for food waste that maybe unique to Christmas.

Research has shown that much of what we waste relates to the habitual way in which we plan, shop and eat, meaning that the habits and routines of everyday life shape our food waste behaviours. Christmas is a time of interruption and disruption of routines making it a prime candidate for wasting food.

Picture the scene, your whole family are coming round for Christmas dinner. You want to impress and ensure everyone has their favourite foods and that there is plenty to go around. After a mammoth supermarket shop, planning and cooking a feast, the meal is a success and a Christmas to remember. But wait, did all the food get eaten? You were overzealous with the amount vegetables needed and a collection of sweet treats that weren’t quite to everyone’s liking remain. These leftovers haunt your fridge and hide in containers behind various sauces and alcoholic beverages over the next few days. But despite the best intentions, and due to eating out more often than usual, the food gets thrown away.

There is a lack of research on why food is wasted at seasonal periods like Christmas. Catering for others is often interpreted as ensuring there is more than enough to go around and it’s much more difficult to keep track of food’s degradation in a fuller fridge. Normal practices of planning out meals and cooking to portion sizes during a typical working week go out the window given the change to schedules that revolve around relaxing and unwinding. Don’t despair however, there are many things you can do to prevent food waste this Christmas.

Firstly planning. At Christmas this becomes even more important to ensure that food is bought, stored and used at the right time. There is a variety of time saving advice for being organised and taking the stress out of preparing food for the big day. Two out of five people worry about under or over cooking their turkey and planning ahead can help prevent this.

Secondly, taking control and managing the Christmas shopping is absolutely vital to ensure all the essentials are covered but at the same time you don’t go over board and shop like you are catering for 50. Being a savvy shopper means always taking a list and being wise about deals and promotions especially since food waste has been linked to shopping behaviours.

Thirdly, staying calm and remembering that you are cooking for your family and not professional chefs. Food waste due to over compensating and wanting to provide and impress has been documented. Cooking should be an enjoyable part of Christmas.

Finally, redistribute and use up leftovers. Plan when the famous turkey curry will be cooked and make sure family and friends take home any excess food. Keep on top that extra food in the fridge, pay attention to use by dates, use your own judgement of how long items will last where necessary and use the freezer to prolong the life of food. Love Food Hate Waste provide advice on how to handle leftovers as well as plenty of innovative recipes and resources on how to best use up surplus Christmas food.




Research Insight – Business strategies to mitigate food waste

Recent graduate Rocha Liliana shares the findings of her Master’s thesis which provided a comparative analysis of policies, strategies and different approaches between businesses and organisations working to mitigate food waste from supermarkets.

Her master’s thesis investigated how food waste occurs within the different stages of the supply chain showing that waste is generated in every stage and that supermarkets waste at least 115000 tonnes every year which is equivalent to £0.65 billion in the UK. Food waste occurs due to food loss, lack of education and awareness. The economic and environmental consequences have shown to require immediate action. The environmental impacts varied from gas emissions, unnecessary use of natural resources but also from destroying biodiversity in order to produce food. Regarding the methodology, the researcher chose an interpretivist philosophy and inductive approach using qualitative case studies alongside secondary data.

The discussions and findings section implemented the concept of CSR together with the stakeholder and legitimacy theory which were applied to Tesco and WRAP demonstrating that the strategies that supermarkets develop are mainly based on stakeholder pressure, societal views and media publicity. WRAP played a major role by working together with the government but also by helping businesses and supermarkets like Tesco by giving advice to achieve food waste reduction. The four obligations of CSR were also examined. The ethical responsibility demonstrated to be of major importance, this was identified to be included in Tesco’s and WRAP’s practices. The strategies had a direct link with positive ethical actions and representation of CSR. The legal responsibility looked at how Tesco obeys current laws which regulate the retail industry. However, after examining how laws in France had a positive impact on this field, it was identified that Tesco goes beyond its legal responsibilities and combines their strategies with ethical responsibilities.

The food waste pyramid has shown to suit the concept of CSR. The different stages such as prevention which included redistribution to people were identified as ethical but also as philanthropic responsibilities. Tesco was shown to cover these responsibilities. The remaining stages (animal feed, recycling and recovery) were analysed and were shown to contribute towards ethical responsibility.

The summary above provides some interesting insights into the interplay between the food waste problem in the food business world and how CSR is constructed and put into practice. WRAP are a key player in how such retailers develop such CSR actions and continue to work towards food waste reduction targets. The thesis poses questions around the extent to which businesses go beyond the standards set of in law and the influence of advisory organisations. Furthermore with the upcoming ‘brexit’ it will be interesting to see how food waste legislation originating from EU directives, such as the implementation of the food waste hierarchy, will be re-negotiated into UK law.


Tackling our food waste and the technological fix

It’s fantastic to see the momentum of media interest in food waste moving from statistic filled articles and information graphics to coverage of innovative projects that seek to tackle the waste problem. In the UK, recent television programs have started to draw upon narratives of empowerment to bring together consumers and the wider public in ‘fighting’ the war on waste as set out in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent BBC television programme. But despite this impetus and increased proposition of technological solutions, the potential for such ideas to achieve real change is debatable.

Research that has sought to understand why we throw away food has delivered one key message; that the wastage of food by individuals both inside and outside the home is a problematic phenomenon, wrapped up in the complexity of our everyday lives. The transition of food into waste is encompassed in the routines and habits of how we consume food across stages of purchasing, storage, preparation and consumption as well as how the schedules we keep to as part of our lifestyles influence what we eat, when and why (Evans, 2015). Further to this, waste is a material that is hidden and absent from thought, removed from the household and also from our consciousness. Therefore any means of tackling the wastage of food has the difficult task of interrupting, changing and establishing new procedures that go beyond reducing food waste material to prevent the wastage of food in the first place.

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Innovation in Tackling Food Waste Event – An overview of the day

As part of the ESRC’s festival of social science, on the 9th of November 2015 the Innovation in Tackling Food Waste event brought together interested parties across different stakeholder groups to share, discuss and debate the timely issue of food waste and potential solutions. The event’s aims were three fold in: sharing academic research, disseminating innovative and transferable strategies to mitigate food waste and providing an opportunity for interactive discussion. The event actively encouraged audience participation throughout the day with a question and answer session following each presentation and the utilisation of the audience engagement tool ‘Slido’.

Below gives a brief overview of each speaker’s contribution and a summary of the discussion and debate. The speakers slides can be founds here:

Jordon Lazell – Coventry University


Jordon is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Business in Society (CBiS) at Coventry University and co-founder of the International Food Loss and Food Waste Studies Group. Introducing the day, Jordon reminded the audience of the problem at hand, the need for businesses to take increasing responsibility, the need for innovation and outlined the day’s focus. Jordon also spoke on the findings of his research on food waste behaviours in university catering environments and his experience of attempting to prevent food waste via a social media tool

Professor William Young – University of Leeds

William - UoLeeds

William is Professor of Sustainability and Businesses and Co-Director of the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds. He presented findings from a 3 year co-production project with Asda to test behaviour change interventions to help their customers reduce food waste at home.

Sarah Bromley – WRAP


Sarah is a Research Analyst at WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) specialising in consumer food waste prevention and food re-distribution. Sarah discussed several socially innovative initiatives that aim to reduce food waste as part of her work on the EU FUSIONS project.

Caitlin Shepherd and Sam Packer – This is Rubbish

Sam and Caitlin - TIR 2

Caitlin Shepherd is Co-Founder and Director of the award winning food waste campaign ‘This is Rubbish’. Caitlin spoke about the recently launched ‘stop the rot’ campaign that calls for the retail and manufacturing sector to commit to a 30% reduction in waste by 2025. Caitlin also spoke about the need for more comprehensive auditing of what exactly is bring diverted away from human consumption across the food supply chain and for retailers to take greater responsibility for the wasteful practices they encourage.

Alice Codsi – Food Surplus Entrepreneur Network

Alice - FSE

Alice Codsi is Co-Founder of the Food Surplus Entrepreneur Network which connects a European community of food surplus entrepreneurs and organisations that build solutions to tackle food waste. Alice discussed a number of different innovative initiatives that entrepreneurs have implemented to make the most of surplus food and reduce the amount thrown away.

Tessa Cook – OLIO


OLIO is a revolutionary new app which connects neighbours with each other and local shops so that surplus food can be shared either for free or for sale but not thrown away. Tessa outlined how anyone with surplus food can take a photo, add a brief description, set the location and price (if applicable), and neighbours can see the item available, and message to arrange pick up.

Audience engagement and discussion

The Slido tool was used throughout the event with each speaker posing questions to the audience and individuals responding via their mobile and tablet devices, the real time results of these polls were then displayed. Below are the results of the audience polls:

Slido in action

Who are you most likely to listen to and trust when they talk about being greener?

  • Scientists – 50%
  • Non-governmental organisations – 38%
  • My kids – 4%
  • People I am connected to on social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Mumsnet) – 4%
  • My partner/spouse – 4%

Have you ever stopped or changed the products you purchase because you have previously wasted it?

  • Yes, I only purchase it occasionally – 63%
  • Yes, I stopped purchasing it altogether – 13%
  • Yes, I moved to a smaller pack size – 13%
  • No, never I always buy the same thing – 8%
  • Don’t know – 4%

What do you think is the most important policy change needed to facilitate the socially innovative projects aimed at reducing food waste?

  • Financial support (E.g. Grants; tax relief on donated food, buildings etc) – 44%
  • Clarification of, guidance about, or change in, legislation (e.g. Health and Safety) – 26%
  • Greater support provided from Local Authorities and Agencies (E.g. Time, buildings, Brokerage etc.) – 22%
  • Government promotion of socially innovative activities – 7%

Slido in action 2

Which of these options is the most effective way to reduce grocery supply chain food waste?

  • Government Regulation – 41%
  • Efficient supply chain ordering systems – 23%
  • Producer Empowerment – 14%
  • Transparent Reporting Processes – 14%
  • Redistribution / Reuse of supply chain surplus – 5%
  • Producing less food – 5%


  • Food not being sold primarily for financial profit
  • All of the above! No one size fits all…

How could we push social entrepreneurship into food waste reduction?

  • Workshops on food waste for sector associations – 35%
  • A start up day for future social entrepreneur – 30%
  • A big conference on social entrepreneurship and food waste – 20%
  • An inspiration video of the best organisations – 15%

Smartphones can play a major role in tackling food waste

  • Somewhat agree – 62%
  • Strongly agree – 19%
  • Neither agree nor disagree – 12%
  • Somewhat disagree – 8%

In the afternoon, participants and speakers addressed four questions during breakout round table discussions which were facilitated by members of the CBiS team. This led to a number of stimulating conversations. A summary of points made across groups are given below:


In your opinion, what are the most responsible actions businesses and individuals can take to tackle food waste?

For individuals:

  • Thinking ahead, planning, using what you have
  • Learning to cook in a more creative way
  • Acknowledging the waste problem
  • Commitment to alternative means of supply, i.e community food groups


  • Reducing and preventing what is currently thrown away
  • More attention to procurement and understanding of where waste is generated in the supply chain
  • Avoidance of moving waste to other parts of the supply chain
  • Acknowledgement that business practices influence consumer’s behaviour
  • Removing deals and offers on fresh products
  • Improving the relationship with food through education, away from viewing food just as a product

Other points

  • Overall lack of the visibility of the waste problem

Where do you think the bottlenecks are that stop improvements in the food waste situation, and who has the power/skills to help break through these?

Bottlenecks that stop improvements

  • Lack of interest from consumers
  • Lack of value for food, food is too cheap, portions sizes too big, loss of seasonality
  • Cosmetic rules on food that create false norms of aesthetics
  • Dating of products
  • Shopping behaviours, daily and weekly habits
  • Government initiatives and policy framing
  • Business targets are currently voluntary

Who has the power to help break though these bottleneck?

  • NGOs and awareness and actions campaigns
  • Need for food waste prevention to be orchestrated from the top
  • Need for a multi-pronged approach – a multi-stakeholder agreement
  • Responsibilities of businesses to shrink choices
  • Tax incentives and initiatives to prevent food from being wasted


What are some good examples/case studies of other companies/regions/countries that could be transferred here?

  • Planning and think ahead initiatives, education and guidance for consumers
  • Education programmes in schools
  • Community farming, co-operatives and local level food production – integrating production and consumption
  • Collaboration between supermarkets – non-competitive policy
  • Cut off that only 5% of food waste is acceptable, no more – transparent metrics, accurate recordings of what is wasted across the supply chain
  • Local level sharing, neighbourhood action
  • Smaller plates and portions, better planning and freezing of food in hospitality settings

Which issues require a greater understanding? What are the future priorities of research?

  • Greater research around food consumption and subsequent waste practices, how can norms be changed? How does food waste change between contexts?
  • Understanding the relationship between recycling and preventing food waste
  • The role of regulation in changing business and consumer practices/ behaviour
  • A measurement of food waste across the supply chain and the potential implications of a transparent common metric
  • New businesses models to replace the current competitive retail environment that generates waste
  • How best to communicate with SME’s regarding the waste prevention and management
  • How can consumers better understand the problem of food waste? Creating awareness, stabilising changes in behaviour


AAG 2016 Call for papers – Food waste scholarship: Recent advances and perspectives from a fragmented field of study

The International Food Loss and Food Waste Studies group are organising a further session focused around food waste research at the 2016 Association of American Geographers conference, 29th March to the 2nd of April in Sanfrancisco, CA.

We welcome all contributions that touch centrally or tangentially on food waste through (but not limited to): – Consumption – Waste management – Prevention and/or reduction – Gender – Environment – Discourse – Materiality – Social justice – International development – Policy – Food systems – Other

Interested speakers should contact Isabel Urrutia at for questions or submissions. Submissions should include your AAG pin number and abstract. Please include use “AAG Food Waste” as the subject line of your email.


Session abstract: Food waste scholarship: Recent advances and perspectives from a fragmented field of study

As a relatively new field of study, food waste has seen engagement from a plethora of fields across multiple scales, and locations from differing perspectives. Its interaction between food studies, discard studies, and food security is one that reflects the increasing concern for the environmental impact of food waste and mitigation techniques that extend from preventative behaviour change to waste material maximization. At the same time, at the household level, studies have begun to address the the complex ways in which consumption and food waste interact with identity, care, and food safety. This session seeks to explore the study of food waste across such diverging perspectives of the local and global, farm to household, quantitative and qualitative, sociological to managerial, agentive and structural, prevention and reduction, etc.

Organised by the International Food Loss and Food Waste Study Group, this session will: 1) Provide a forum for food waste scholars to share their work, and 2) Create a space to begin a conversation between these varying perspectives on food waste.

Reflections: Westminster Forum Keynote Seminar – Next steps for UK food waste policy ‐ waste reduction, innovation and anaerobic digestion, 10th September 2015

Charlotte Spring and Guillermo Garcia-Garcia reflect on the recent Westminster Forum key note seminar that concerned the next steps for UK food policy

Westminster Forum Projects organise cross-party seminars to bring together stakeholders and policy-makers to share perspectives within specific topic areas. Events are funded through sponsorship and delegate fees, though free places are available for policy makers and poor students! September’s food waste policy forum saw a comprehensive delegate list from major processors and retailers to representatives from WRAP and DEFRA, local authority staff, campaigners and researchers. The day was loosely divided into two themes: reducing food waste and rationalising its use through redistribution/Anaerobic Digestion, linked by discussions of policy levers at local, national and EU levels, especially the renewal of the Cortauld Commitment and Kerry McCarthy’s Private Members Bill on food waste reduction, presented to Parliament the previous day and currently being prepared for its second reading in January.

Speakers included Nicola Hopley from DEFRA, who described recent achievements and current targets across the supply chain, Matt Smyth on Surrey County Council’s Waste Partnership and behaviour change/public engagement in food waste separation at home, David Baldock from IEEP on the EU’s role in debates and policy developments around food waste and Richard Swannell from WRAP on the role voluntary agreements can play in reducing food waste into the future and Cortauld 2025. Later sessions focused on the role and risks of AD and there were contributions from the packaging industry, the Food and Drink Federation and LEAF (on the role of ‘precision farming’ and hi-tech).

Spotlight on redistribution (Charlotte Spring)

I’d like to focus on two contributions: Mark Varney from FareShare and Mark Little from Tesco.

Varney prefaced his talk with a reminder of the prevalence of poverty globally and here in the UK. He noted that FareShare is what in the US and elsewhere is called a ‘food bank’- doing the logistical work to collect and distribute food to member charities. He highlighted the precious and vital nature of food as a resource: “we deal in food, not waste”. Without going into the specifics of FareShare’s work at 20 depots across the UK, he suggested that the unique nature of food as a commodity that rots if not looked after requires it to be given a special place in policy considerations. He highlighted his organisation’s rapid growth and the support of major food companies, also acknowledging that most are working to prevent waste but suggesting that the “scrapings” of fit-for-consumption leftovers could be put to much better use. FareShare’s aim is to grow from redistributing 2% to 25% of available surplus, acknowledging the higher rates of redistribution in France. Varney called for a “legislative framework to make it easy and cost‐effective for those businesses to reflect…the food use hierarchy, and we do not have that at the moment.” While Nicola Hopley of DEFRA had suggested that donation for human consumption should be cheaper than sending it for animal feed or AD, he insisted that for many businesses this simply isn’t the case. He called for incentives that reflect the costs of redistribution work- research is needed to clarify what those costs are, the kind of understanding called for by Kerry McCarthy’s bill. Varney made the point that businesses will use disposal outlets available to them but are unlikely to opt for those they have to pay extra for, as is the case with food waste separation for many.

FareShare’s Food Efficiency Framework encourages businesses to anticipate and plan for occasions of fit-for-donation surplus; Varney posed the question of whether such procedures could be legislated for. He also mentioned the question of language used in engaging businesses: why do we still use the word ‘waste’ to describe something that has merely become commercially unsellable: the edibility of the food in question doesn’t change despite this economic ‘qualculation’ (I find Jane Midgeley and David Boarder Giles’s work useful in exploring the logics of food under capitalist exchange).

I am always interested in what’s left out of such conversations: there was, understandably, little mention of the specific kinds of food that tend to go to waste and their suitability for feeding to people in need, as well as the different kinds of handling required. There was no mention of FareShare’s need to adhere to date labels and what they do with food that passes this. There was little engagement with the debate as to whether logistically improving and legislating for redistribution risks ‘entrenching’ food aid as a solution to poverty without attending to a welfare system in crisis. This is unsurprising but struck me as an omission of the day, where the notion that feeding humans as the peak of the ‘food use hierarchy’ was assumed to be a positive despite the need to attend to its empirical specifics, as some of our own work has pointed out.

Mark Little leads Tesco’s work on food waste reduction and told the forum that Tesco’s decision to act on this came from a concern for ‘global food security and environmental reasons’ but also colleagues and customers’ ‘guilt’ and concern to reduce waste in a world where people go hungry, as well as food waste being a financial cost for Tesco and its suppliers. Tesco is taking a ‘whole-chain’ approach and using WRAP’s work to understand how waste occurs. Mentioning the >1% of store-level waste, he nevertheless recognised Tesco’s influence on wastage up and downstream, speaking of ‘shared responsibility’ and working together.

He mentioned Tesco’s published audit of their food waste: 55,400 tonnes in 2014/5 and that Tesco employs ‘the hierarchy’ where possible. He said that efforts to ensure food goes to humans are being bolstered by their partnership and trial work with FoodCloud, currently live in 12 English stores to communicate available surplus to charities connected to each store by FareShare, with plans to roll this out should trials prove successful. He went on to describe the ‘5 themes’ of work being done to prevent waste upstream:

  • ‘Product-specific initiatives’ (such as Branston’s use of drone technology to identify and tackle potential crop failure);
  • ‘Guaranteeing orders’ (promising to purchase at least 80% of a grape crop to enable farmers to forecast demand: a 20% margin of error sounded to me like little improvement on the situation many farmers currently face, however);
  • ‘Whole edible crop utilisation’, such as reprocessing leftover single bananas into milkshakes (I don’t think this includes post-store shelf produce);
  • ‘Trade-driving promotions’- running promotions on products forecast to produce a glut, such as strawberries this May and June;
  • ‘Extending direct deliveries’- importing produce direct from supplier to store rather than via a distribution centre.

He finished by mentioning shopper-focussed initiatives such as using ‘skin packaging’ and LoveFoodHasteWaste messaging: while more research needs to be done on the impact of such interventions, he mentioned ‘preliminary findings’ that 1 in 10 customers report having changed behaviour as a result of such messaging.

Again, what was left out of Little’s contribution? Clearly it would be useful to know the methodologies employed in research that claims consumer behaviour change, and to specify what that change is! He didn’t engage with one of the topics of the day, which is the potential role of legislative change and financial incentives or disincentives for dealing with surplus food in specific ways (as well as the Grocery Code Adjudicator in mediating decisions about guaranteeing/cancelling orders). It is laudable to see work being carried out by corporations with such a wide claim over the distribution of food in the UK and testament to the tireless advocacy work of groups like This Is Rubbish and Feedback, as well as the research and support role of WRAP. An audience question later on came from Niki Charalampopoulou from Feedback, arguing for the maintenance of government support for the WRAP’s globally-relevant work, as well as supporting industry contributions to an organisation whose services they benefit from.

Opportunities to scrutinise and debate such multi-sectoral strategies are vital. I welcome future opportunities to examine the ongoing impacts of the stated intentions of organisations such as Tesco and FareShare, though these require an eye on the bigger picture, as austerity economics and climate change continue to impact food production and the differing capacity of people to purchase and eat it, especially given the potentials and risks of legislating for change.

picture to be used a part of guillermo and Charlie's article - cropped

Finding the best uses for inedible food waste: anaerobic digestion (Guillermo Garcia-Garcia)

Anaerobic digestion took a central role in the last hour of the event during the session “Challenges and priorities for the anaerobic digestion industry”. This included insightful presentations by Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of ADBA; Julian O’Neill, Chief Executive Officer of Biogen; Peter Melchett, Policy Director of The Soil Association; and Jeremy Jacobs, Technical Director of the Renewable Energy Association; followed by a fruitful discussion between panel members and members of the audience on the benefits of anaerobic digestion technology to treat food wastes and issues present and foreseen in the sector.

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a technology that enables the obtaining of biogas and digestate from a variety of feedstocks, including food waste. The raw material is broken down by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen; the biogas obtained (basically a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide) can be used to generate fuel, heat or electricity, or can be directed into the gas grid. The waste that was not converted into biogas, called digestate, can be used as a fertilizer. O’Neill defined it as follows: “this is not just a renewable technology, this is not just a waste management technology, it’s where those two things meet”. As Morton highlighted in her presentation, AD must be considered a recycling alternative rather than a recovery alternative, and it must be used only for inedible food waste; for edible food waste the efforts must focus on reducing the amount of waste generated and redistribution preferably to people in need or otherwise to animal feeding. Its popularity and significance has rapidly increased over the last years: by this July 400 AD plants has been built in the UK, and by the end of the year this number is expected to reach 500. This growth has obtained as much energy from AD as from the Wylfa nuclear plant in north Wales which is going to be decommissioned soon.

Charlotte pointed out that big opportunities in the sector are in getting access to feedstocks with poor AD performance at the moment, such as wastes with high lignin content. R&D investments in AD will increase the energy we can obtain digesting waste, potentially reducing the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 4%. Though AD systems can (and must) be optimised, O’Neill valued their efficiency compared to other alternatives, such as incineration, taking into account that about 75% of food waste is composed of water. On the other hand, Jacobs emphasised the uses of biogas for transporting and for use as a vehicle fuel as biomethane; Morton estimated that this could feed about 80% of heavy goods vehicles and 60-70% of buses.

The other side of the coin: threats in the anaerobic digestion sector

However, this useful technology has started to face serious issues that can jeopardise its future. Recently, the Levy Exemption Certificates (LECs) have been removed, the Feed-in Tariffs (FiT) have been reduced and the FiT pre-accreditation will also be removed, and the consequence of this according to Morton is that only AD plants which already have pre-accreditation will be built. O’Neill added that these recent decisions will make it much more difficult for this sector to expand, and he called for a stabilisation of the subsidy mechanisms. From the AD industry side, the gate fees should be driven down and the business should be more resilient. In terms of feedstock, 90 million tonnes of farm manures are available in the UK, but they must be combined with other materials as their biogas potential is low, Jacobs stated. Peter Prior (Andigestion), from the audience, showed his scepticism on the amount of energy we can get from novel feedstocks in the future, and said that with the high number of AD plants already in existence, there will be a trend to use crops grown specifically for AD purposes instead of food waste in order to increase the efficiency of the digestion process. However, Melchett strongly criticised this option in one particular case: growing maize for AD. This crop damages the soil very severely where it is planted, and this has significant consequences for rivers and causes serious harm to the fishing industry. Melchett called for an urgent stop to subsidies to maize for AD.

From my perspective, the benefits of AD technology as a recycling alternative are clear in terms of environmental and economic benefits: this option should be prioritised when managing inedible food waste. Nevertheless, in some particular cases, extraction of high-valuable compounds from food waste prior to AD (e.g. essential oils, colourings) can be of special economic interest. An exhaustive analysis on the different types of food waste seems to be necessary in order to select the management alternatives that maximise economic and social benefits and minimise the environmental impact.


Despite much was discussed during the event about the environmental impact of growing crops to feed anaerobic digesters, nothing was said about the moral aspects of this opportunity: is it ethical to grow food for energy purposes, while there are about 800 million people suffering from chronic hunger in the world? A partial solution is growing crops only in contaminated lands: the food grown there would not be fit for human consumption anyway. We cannot forget what happened in Germany: farm and food waste was initially used as a feedstock for AD, but afterwards it was proved that maize brings a much higher efficiency to the process. As a consequence, the use of maize in AD rose dramatically causing an important environmental impact. At this point, it seems sensible to suggest that R&D should focus on increasing the efficiency of (food, farm, etc.) waste AD plants rather than on access to new crops to be used as feedstock.

It would be interesting to hear others’ interpretations of the discussions outlined above; feel free to add your comments or contact us for further discussion.

Charlie Spring is a PhD researcher at the University of Salford exploring the growth of surplus food redistribution. Her research starts from the contradictions of food availability in UK cities, where high levels of food waste coexist with hunger and food-related illness. She’s comparing the Real Junk Food Project with other organisations that redistribute surplus food to people, asking what it means to cook and eat together, and how such organisations might advocate to address systemic causes of hunger and waste.

Guillermo Garcia-Garcia is a research assistant and PhD student at Loughborough University. He earned a MEng in chemical engineering at the University of Granada (Spain) in 2011 and a BEng in industrial technical engineering at the University of Jaén (Spain) in 2012. His experience in the food sector includes positions in the production laboratory of a dairy Spanish company and in the R&D Department of an edible-casings producer in Germany. He joined Loughborough University in 2014 as a Research Assistant to investigate sustainable manufacturing of food products. He is also undertaking a PhD in maximising the value of food waste at Loughborough University.

Food Waste – Why We Need Innovation

Food Waste is a problem affecting all societies, as can be seen in this infographic, produced for foodwastestudies by Jennifer Ferreira from Centre for Business in Society (@jennywrenwatts):

If you are interested in more information about innovation in tackling food waste, you may be interested in the upcoming event organised by CBiS and the ESRC.

Innovation in Tackling Food Waste – Event Flyer

We have produced a flyer for the upcoming ESRC-sponsored Innovation in Tackling Food Waste event.

This joint Centre for Business in Society (CBiS) and ESRC Festival of Social Science event will promote the role of social science research in solving the food waste problem and help businesses address their food wastage. You can register for this event here.

Tackling food waste in the supply chain

For me the wastage of food in today’s society reflects the wider nature of our throwaway culture and commoditisation of products that has disconnected individuals and businesses from being able to understand and engage with how food is produced and take care in how it is used and what comes of it. The wastage of food remains a critical issue economically, environmentally and socially with 30 to 50% of all food grown estimated to be wasted[1] representing an economic loss of $750 billion annually[2]. Currently enough food is wasted by the United States alone to feed the world’s one billion malnourished people[3] which reflects the present paradoxical situation where the developed world has too much food and the developing world to little.

In the UK, 15 million tonnes of food is wasted each year[4] across different stages of the food supply chain and also at consumer level. There has been a significant drive to tackle food waste at the household level with WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) undertaking a campaign to promote steps that can be taken by consumers. WRAP has also engaged with businesses across the supply chain but despite the progress made by some firms, there is yet to be a blanket approach to tackling food waste across the food industry, particularly a strategy that priorities preventative action over solutions that focus on a reduction of waste material. With the issue gathering momentum in the media, companies across the supply chain such as retailers, manufacturers, processors and farmers are under pressure to manage their waste in a responsible and sustainable way.


The Courtauld Commitment 2025

The Courtauld commitment was introduced by WRAP in 2005 as a way of engaging with the grocery sector to reduce the environmental impact of their operations. The voluntary commitment was adopted by 53 brands and retailers involving a reduction in food and packaging waste over three stages. Despite the emissions savings achieved, the commitment has been criticised for not setting more ambitious targets as well as its voluntary nature. Of the 53 signatories, few are processors and manufacturers of food which remain an under represented area and a priority in tackling food waste in the supply chain.

 This is Rubbish – Stop the Rot campaign

With the third stage of the Courtald commitment ending in 2015, consultation activity and discussions are currently underway to develop a 2016-2025 follow-on agreement. This is Rubbish, a food waste campaigning organisation, is calling for an improved more ambitious Courtald. The ‘Stop the Rot’ campaign calls on WRAP to target a number of key areas in developing the 2025 Courtauld Commitment. One of the most important is the need for a more transparent auditing process in the grocery sector across the supply chain as it is currently unclear how much food is wasted at different stages per product. Tesco has recently taken an important step in auditing the waste of some if it’s most popular products and there is a need for all retailers to follow this example[5]. There is an overall need for the next Coutauld commitment to engage in more holistic supply chain measurements of waste, particularly at the pre-factory gate level as well as a call for retailers to take a greater responsibility for the food wasted before it reaches the store.


The campaign also calls for further improvements such as more ambitious targets with the previous Courtauld commitments falling short of what is required in accordance with international goals. Better implementation of the waste hierarchy is also emphasised involving the promotion and preference of preventative actions over ones that solely reduce the amount of waste material. An end to the current period of self-regulation and voluntary commitments and a movement towards more regulation is also important to ensure that businesses both engage and meet the goals set.

Food waste roundtable – Houses of Parliament

To develop their campaign, in July 2015 This is Rubbish invited a number of people who work in the area of food waste to the Houses of Parliament for a roundtable discussion. The event was organised in collaboration MP Kerry McCarthy who brought a food waste bill to parliament in 2012 and aims to do the same in 2015. I was lucky enough to be invited to the meeting and really enjoyed the opportunity to meet and discuss such an important issue in such an important place. Held in a meeting room overlooking the river Thames, members of the audience were able to question and debate the campaign being developed. We also collaboratively engaged in developing innovative communication strategies and discussed how our organisations could help partner the campaign going forward.


Chris King Photography

A number of interesting points were raised at the meeting. For example food wasted at farm level is being ignored by current strategies to tackle food waste. Waste at this level is often designated as losses rather than wastage and excluded from auditing. A topical issue was the overall lack of accountability by the grocery industry adjudicator over the issue of food waste and the critical need for retailers and supermarkets to take responsibility for how their actions, such as the product specifications of fruit and vegetables, cause food to be wasted across the supply chain. We also heard a surprising story of how farmers are selling surplus food as animal feed or transferring food that would otherwise be wasted to anaerobic digestion rather than re-distributing food to charity food banks. Questions were raised over how more transparent auditing would work in practice if more comprehensive measures across the supply chain were implemented, particularly the nature of the methods to be used.

Chris King Photography

Chris King Photography

Overall I found the key issue was engagement with industry as only 53 companies committed to previous stages of the Courtald. If the new 2015 to 2025 commitment is to have an impact a greater proportion of companies across the supply chain need to be involved as well as retailers taking accountability for how their actions influence wastage at farm, processor and manufacturer level. The Courtald commitment could also be a catalyst for competition between companies to both achieve and go beyond food waste prevention and reduction targets.

More information about the Stop to Rot campaign can be found on the This is Rubbish website

Jordon Lazell is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Business in Society and is interested in consumer food waste behaviours and strategies to mitigate food wastage. He is currently undertaking a PhD on a part time basis which seeks to explore the transition of food into waste across different consumption spaces with everyday urban lives.

Jordon has recently been successful in gaining ESRC funding to organise an event entitled ‘Innovation in Tackling Food Waste’. The event will take place on the 9th of November 2015 at the Coventry Simulation centre, more information can be found at:





[1] FAO (2011) Global Food Losses and Food Waste.[online] Rome: FAO. Available from <; [21 July 2015]

[2] FAO (2013) Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources – summary report. [online] Rome: FAO. Available from <; [21 July 2015]

[3] Stuart, T. (2009) Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal. New York: W.W. Norton

[4] Bray J. 2013. Food Waste – The Policy Perceptive. ‘Waste Not Want Not: Agro-Food Waste Solutions for a Hungry World’. Held 5th March 2013 at The Society for Chemical Engineering HQ. SCI Agri-Food Hub: London.

[5] Tesco (2014) Food Waste Hotspots. [online] Available from <; [22 July 2015]