The government has been criticised for binning food waste legislation that campaigners say could have reduced food prices and helped tackle the climate crisis.
The policy would have made food waste reporting mandatory for large and medium-sized businesses in England. According to research by the environmental campaign group Feedback, if it led to just a 1% reduction in food waste, food businesses would save an estimated total of at least £24.4m a year.
Martin Bowman, senior policy and campaigns manager at Feedback, said this was “an immediately achievable goal” that would “more than offset the costs of measurement and reporting, saving millions of pounds, and helping struggling families by lowering food inflation”.
“After a decade of failed voluntary reporting, it is a dereliction of duty for the government to abandon this policy,” he said. Campaigners say that the decision by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to backtrack on the legislation also risks exacerbating environmental challenges.
Jamie Crummie, a co-founder of Too Good To Go, an app that connects customers to businesses with surplus unsold food, said: “Food waste contributes 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing the aviation industry’s impact. As we are witnessing the devastating effect of climate change first-hand across Europe this summer, a decision like this from Defra feels particularly disheartening.”
The government defended scrapping the legislation by claiming that the costs for businesses to regulate food waste reporting could drive food inflation. A Defra spokesperson said: “A regulatory approach which we estimate to cost businesses around £5.3m is not suitable in the current economic climate, especially when any additional costs may be passed on to consumers.”
Instead, they have suggested expanding the government-funded waste charity Wrap’s specialist taskforce encouraging businesses to report voluntarily. However, Wrap has said there is a “disappointing” lack of voluntary reporting by businesses, and that “enhanced voluntary reporting” would be more expensive than mandatory food waste reporting.
The government’s own impact assessment found that just a 0.25% reduction in food waste would balance out any costs of measuring and reporting it, with food waste measurement costing an estimated £19 for each tonne measured, compared with between £1,189 and £3,099 of savings for each tonne of food waste reduced.
Last summer, the government launched a consultation regarding the proposed law, in which 99% of respondents expressed support for the law, including 79% of retailers and 73% of hospitality services.
Among those expressing disappointment with the scrapping of the law are the retailers Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado. Tesco has said: “Publishing food waste data is vital and must be mandatory if the UK is to achieve sustainable development goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030.”