Last reviewed 31 October 2017

The voluntary agreement that integrates members of the food supply chain in order to help reduce waste and make food and drink production more sustainable, continues to gain pace. Dave Howell assesses its current impact and whether the initiative is on track to achieve its stated goals

The Courtauld Commitment 3 (CC3) set ambitious voluntary targets to deliver the policy objectives of the UK Government. These objectives include the 4th Carbon Budget and Defra’s anticipated Food and Farming Plan, with the latter seemingly indefinitely delayed because of the Brexit vote.

In addition, the commitment is designed to contribute to the Scottish Government’s target for food waste prevention, and the Welsh Government’s Towards Sustainable Growth: An Action Plan for the Food and Drink Industry 2014–2020 and waste strategy Towards Zero Waste, and the Northern Ireland waste management strategies — Delivering Resource Efficiency and Waste Prevention Programme — The Road to Zero Waste.

Estimates from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) state that seven million tonnes of food were needlessly thrown away in 2015. The first phase of CC3 set targets to be delivered by 50 signatories of a 3% reduction in food waste. Food packaging waste was reduced by a similar amount, with household food waste reduced by 5%. The food waste target was met. Packaging was exceeded. However, domestic food waste levels remained relatively static.

Gina Boswell, General Manager of Unilever UK and Ireland said: “With our consumers becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of food waste, and with retailers, campaigners and policy makers all agreeing that more collective action is needed to solve the challenge, Courtauld 2025 is a strong commitment that will continue to move our industry in the right direction. In particular for our UK and Ireland business, the commitment will help strengthen and drive forward our own food waste reduction ambitions as well as contribute towards our global target of halving the waste associated with our products by 2020.”

The number of signatories does continue to expand. Major businesses across the food supply chain are feeling increasing pressure from their customers to do more. Environment managers tasked with delivering the reductions needed are increasingly looking to make integrated decisions as it is clear the targets for CC3 can’t be met with isolated initiatives.

Dr Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at WRAP, said: “Collaboration has never been more important, which is why I want to thank the businesses and organisations that have committed to taking action. This is an ambitious undertaking and having key signatories on board on day one puts us in a strong position at the start of this new era for our food industry. I look forward to welcoming other leading organisations as signatories over the coming weeks, months and years and delivering this ambitious agreement.”

For businesses and organisations, taking more control of their waste output is much more straightforward than the changes that need to be made on the domestic front to meet the commitments of CC3. Clearly, environment managers across the supply chain that ends with the consumer can do more.

Tomas Pietrangeli, Managing Director of Arla Foods UK, which was one of the 50 voluntary signatories to sign up to CC3, said: “Arla Foods UK proudly welcomes the successes evident in the CC3 results, in which we played a leading role but the work doesn’t stop there. As a founding signatory to last year’s Courtauld Commitment 2025 and our leading role in the Dairy Roadmap Plan, Arla’s commitment to environmental sustainability and efficiency is clear to see and we will build on the results we have achieved already.”

For organisations that want to do more with their sustainability initiatives, the latest campaign is WRAP’s Your Workplace Without Waste. The programme consists of six short activities that help businesses and their employees focus on how they can make practical changes to their behaviour to further enhance the waste reduction which they can have a practical impact upon.

Retailers are also developing their own specific campaigns: Waitrose is a good example using their in-house magazine to promote their Live Wise initiative, which aims to show readers how to make practical changes to reduce food waste. Waitrose Food Editor, Silvana Franco says: “The desire to reduce waste is clearly there, we just need to start making a few fundamental changes to the way we buy, store and cook food.”

With the Food and Drink Federation in its report into sustainable value chains stating: “Looking outside of our own operations we recognise the UK food supply chain — from production to consumption — accounts for about 20% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. To target these wider food chain emissions, as a signatory to WRAP’s Courtauld 2025 initiative, we fully support and will contribute to the commitment’s target of achieving a 20% per-person reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and consumption of food and drink in the UK.”

Courtauld Brexit

Could the results achieved under CC3 be undermined as the UK approaches Brexit? Currently, the drive to reduce food waste has largely been driven by a national desire to make practical changes to the quantities of food that goes to waste each year. A knock-on effect is the reduction in CO2 emissions that have resulted from CC3, which is a key EU directive. After Brexit however, will the UK have even more freedom to make sweeping changes to meet or surpass the targets now set for CC 2025?

Many across the food industry point to the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste and how this must be either upheld post Brexit, or replaced with similar UK focused legislation. Philip Simpson, Commercial Director at ReFood told Chartered Institution for Wastes Management (CIWM): “It’s encouraging to see leadership in tackling this issue and the platform comprises true decision makers with real teeth from Member States, EU bodies, NGOs and key players across the supply chain. However, as the UK faces Brexit, it is imperative that we continue to be part of the platform or create legislative equivalents to make sure we maintain our focus on food waste.”

Changes to the food and drink supply chain have been taking place. CC3 has clearly been a success in two out of its three core drivers. WRAP continues to develop its approach to supporting CC3 and now CC 2025, and it is consulting on how food labels could be simplified to support more food sustainability. Environment managers across the food supply chain will have to adapt to what continues to be a changing landscape of regulation and desire to do more to protect the environment from waste and preserve more of the food we produce.