About Counting What Matters

TiR has been fortunate enough to be funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation to embark on our new campaign, Counting What Matters. Work began in February this year and we have recruited a wonderful new team, including Sam Packer as Event Coordinator, Martin Bowman for Media and Campaigns and Nessie Reid and Caitlin Shepherd as Project Coordinators.
Counting What Matters builds upon the foundations and findings laid out within our research project, IFWAP, which culminated in a 2013 report on the feasibility of mandatory food waste audits (2013). Using IFWAP as its empirical and theoretical backdrop, the Counting What Matters initiative will seek to work with the grocery retail sector, identifying a food waste champion amongst one of ‘The Big Four’. Specifically TiR aims to:
  1. Identify and engage one major supermarket to champion annual, transparent food waste audits. Commitment to this practice will be pledged in 2015.
  1. Increase advocacy and visibility of food waste audits within the grocery retail sector, among policy makers, MPs and the wider public.


  • Utilise the Counting What Matters report to influence cross party food waste policy change. Introduce mandatory food waste audits as an industry and policy focus, if voluntary audits fail.
  • Engage major supermarkets with transparent food waste audits through an attractive campaign package.
  • Deliver round table meetings with grocery retail sectors, policy makers and academics.
  • Devise and deliver policy change focused public campaign events.
  • Engage public opinion with a wider grocery sector food waste prevention campaign.
  • Advocate introduction of whole supply chain food waste audits and ambitious food waste reduction targets, across all big supermarkets.



Why is Counting What Matters needed?

Food waste is on UK and EU political agendas. The British government has addressed the issue in reports such as Food 2030, The Foresight Future of Food and Farming Report, and Defra’s Waste Strategy for England.

The UK government and WRAP are currently rolling out voluntary industry agreements on food waste, such as the Courtauld Commitment3 . These are gaining far reaching support from food businesses. Since the 1990’s it has been politically fashionable to introduce voluntary behavior change mechanisms such as voluntary codes of conduct, advice and public league tables that name and shame. Such softly ‘softly’ policy approaches are seen in government- funded initiatives such as Love Food Hate Waste, WRAP’s food waste research work and the Courtauld Commitment 1 & 2 &3 , which set voluntary, low mixed- and food-waste reduction targets for businesses that sign up. These approaches are not working: the focus is overly directed at households, and industry-facing agreements such as the Courtauld Commitment are too unambitious to bring any significant change.

TiR are calling for clear, feasible policy and business led change to tackle the shocking problem of industry food waste. Existing policy change proposals to rectify the current surplus scandal are being mooted. They include the introduction of mandatory food waste audits and reduction targets, with a basic proposal of reducing food waste levels (2009) by 50% over a five-year period. There are also calls to introduce a food waste charge, incentivising food surplus being redirected to redistribution organisations such as Fareshare and Foodcycle. Other ideas include funding allocated to research and development of food technology to extract maximum value from food waste products and co products, along with banning sending food waste to landfill.

With increasing numbers of public awareness-raising food waste campaigns and activists, there is a growing democratic mandate for the government to take effective action. Organisations such as TiR work with the public, the food industry and the government to help communication, and more importantly to consolidate agreements from various camps that transparent publishing of food waste audits is a good first step to supply chain waste prevention.

What is the particular need that the proposed work aims to address, and how has this been identified? Why is this important at this time?

Tackling industry food waste is an issue that has been growing in visibility over the past 5 years, and TiR have played an active part in publicising the need for ambitious action on food waste across the industrialised food supply chain. The time is ripe to drive on significant steps in the industry to monitor and reduce food waste. In January 2013 Tesco announced plans to publish data on amounts of food waste occurring in store. Such progress was quickly followed by other major retailers including Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons as well as Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and the Co-op. Data will be published in 2015. More details can be found here.

Although this move is good news for food waste campaigns, simply publishing data is not enough to examine the structural causes of waste, and drive down the shocking amount of food being waste in large grocery supply chains.

Vicki Hird, a food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Food waste has been growing over the last few decades because of the way supermarkets have driven consumption. These figures will indicate how over-purchasing and other poor buying practices are occurring, but retailers need to really examine whether their marketing strategies are fit for purpose in today’s resource-confined world.”

In light of positive cultural and policy changes taking place within the main grocery retailers, Counting What Matters in the long term calls for policy changes to be introduced by at least one of the four big retailers. They are;

  • Introduction of annual reporting in line with a standardised cross supply chain food waste audit.
  • Commitment to ambitious annual food waste reduction targets – 10% reduction in food waste year on year from 2015 data levels.

Such practice ensures all large businesses (defined as businesses with over 250 employees and a turnover of more than £25.9 million) are aware of the concept of food waste audits and are engaged in a race to the bottom to report on food waste.

A similar approach to targeting large businesses only is exemplified in the Producer Responsibility Obligations, which require Mandatory GHG emissions reporting, from all businesses listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The introduction of such practice would ensure that a systemic and consistent approach to tackling food waste reduction is implemented, as well as measurable and consistent year on year reduction targets.

Here at This is Rubbish HQ, we are very excited about Counting What Matters, and will be working on supermarket supply chain food waste prevention for the year ahead.