Government grants awarded to food distributors during the pandemic have helped drive the largest annual increase in surplus food redistribution in six years, WRAP has revealed.
A report published this morning by the waste charity reveals the equivalent of 220 million meals worth of food was prevented from going to waste in 2020, after nearly £12m of public funds was channelled into redistribution organisations to help tackle the surge in surplus food that resulted from the supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Overall, 92,000 tonnes of food worth £280m was saved from going to waste over the course of last year, according to the figures, marking a three-fold increase on levels seen when records began in 2015, according to WRAP.
WRAP CEO Marcus Gover welcomed the “strong figures”, but noted that more work needed to be done to prevent surplus food from being thrown away and crack down on food waste in the first place.
“We know there is the potential to more than double the amount of food redistributed so while I welcome these figures, I would ask all of those involved redouble their efforts and make full use of WRAP’s resources and support,” he said. “While redistribution is an important tool, it is not the answer to food waste. Priority must be given to reducing surplus and waste in the first place. This is critical for business efficiency and essential if we are to achieve our environmental objectives.”
WRAP said almost £7m had been awarded in 2020 to redistribution organisations in England on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) through two government grant schemes. These were the Covid-19 Emergency Surplus Food Grant, a scheme that was fast tracked in April 2020 to help food distributors manage the sudden rise in the volume of surplus food as supply chains adapted to the first lockdown, and the Resource Action Fund, a scheme managed by WRAP to support key government food policy areas.
Overall, Defra awarded nearly £12m to roughly 250 food projects in 2020, the NGO said, noting that it had clinched additional funding and donations from devolved governments and businesses.
WRAP estimated the grant funding from the government enabled more than 50 per cent of the increase in food redistributed in 2020. Meanwhile, roughly 38 per cent of the increase in redistribution seen last year was linked to the increase in surplus food, it said.
Defra food waste champion Ben Elliot dubbed the record levels of food redistribution “an amazing trend” that highlighted significant progress had been made on tackling food waste.
“Defra supported this effort with over £11m of grant aid to redistributors including £3.8m in Emergency Surplus Food Grants, to support redistributors during the coronavirus response,” he said. “I encourage all businesses and organisations to work with redistributors and to get more surplus food identified and redistributed.”
WRAP has calculated there is potential to more than double redistribution of food in the UK supply chain, arguing there is significant opportunity to prevent own-label food items sold by retailers from going to waste, if a more consistent approach to redistribution was adopted by the industry. Currently, only a limited number of redistribution organisations have authorisation from retailers to redistribute own-label surplus from the supply chain, and there are restrictions on the types of food that are redistributed, it said.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow urged businesses to step up their efforts to crack down on food going to waste in light of WRAP’s latest figures.
“The UK is committed to preventing food waste and I am pleased to see that the amount of surplus food redistributed continues to increase, with food worth £280m redistributed in 2020 alone,” she said. “Our funding supported this great effort and helped redistribution groups manage more food surplus and get it to those need it. But we cannot rest on our laurels. I encourage all businesses to help and to ensure surplus food is redistributed.”
While charitable redistribution of surplus food has increased 5.5 fold since 2015 – making up 70 per cent of tonnage managed in 2020 – redistribution efforts by commercial organisations is ramping up less dramatically, with figures showing a 1.6 fold increase.