Photo: Chris King
It’s doubtful people will be going to the polls with food waste on their minds this election. The future of the NHS, Brexit and climate change have dominated the election campaigns, and for good reason. If you’re reading this, you’re probably no stranger to the climate implications of food waste. Hubbub’s recently published research showed this issue is very important to people and that they believe retailers play a significant role in shaping our habits. In fact, what it shows is that people are looking to individuals, communities and the market to resolve the issue and that’s what we’ve been told to do.
This is Rubbish (TiR) has been looking at the issue in the wider context of global food and agriculture and what will happen in this country after the election. Nearly a billion people living in food poverty globally could be fed on less than a quarter of the food being wasted in the UK, US and Europe while the Government’s Environmental Audit Committee found that between 1.97 and 3 million people in the UK are undernourished and in London alone 9 million meals a day are needed to alleviate hunger according to City Harvest. This is happening in a country where, according to the latest estimates by WRAP, around 10 million tonnes of food and drink is wasted after the farm every year. Out of this, approximately 70% is avoidable wastage which could have been used to feed the hungry and malnutritioned. How are we getting it so wrong? Not only are redistribution initiatives unable to meet the demands of the problem but this strategy does not alleviate the environmental harm caused by a broken food system.
After many years of campaigning, in 2014 TiR set out to deliver education programmes that informed young people about the causes and effects of food waste. That is, when they throw food away, they are wasting everything that went into its production. Even though the proportion of food wasted at the consumption stage is 22% of the total, the carbon footprint at this stage is almost 37% of the total carbon footprint of the food chain. The next step is to examine how the system is allowing this to happen when the costs are so high. The very fact that we can and have been wasting up to a third of all food that is produced is because we have a food system predicated on market forces with little or no accountability. In reality this means that we can exploit the land and resources of poorer countries and transfer waste onto them through unfair trading practises. We can do this in a country where the retail sector has the ability to set prices and pick and choose from global food markets regardless of the human and environmental cost.
Prominent figures from the world of finance are finally saying we need to “rethink capitalism and its obsession with constant economic growth” and that our current system “borrows from the future while destroying the environment” as reported last month in the FT.
Transition is inevitable, justice is not
We know we need to address climate change. Channel 4’s recent climate debate shows how seriously most of the leadership candidates are taking this. However, there is a danger of focusing the narrative around single issues rather than looking at the social and economic drivers of the climate crisis.
We cannot put in place goals for our own country without looking at what they mean for other countries. If we do this, we will surely never be able to address climate change in time. We need to look at the problems of the food system, including waste, as rooted in global inequality perpetuated by our economics. We are already seeing that climate change is forcing migration due to food and water shortages and the political instability that follows. Continuing down a road of extractive and consumptive behaviour will exacerbate this.
Across the world we are seeing calls for a Just Transition. The Green New Deal movement, The TUC, Friends of the Earth (FoE) to name a few, have identified that carbon neutrality cannot be achieved using old thinking and exploitation of the local or international labour force. In this country, nobody wants to see lives affected as they were by the shutting of the coal mines in the 1980’s.
As FoE rightly puts it “The real choice is not jobs or climate. It’s both or neither. Transition is inevitable, justice is not.” When we signed the Paris Accord we agreed to ‘Take into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.” TiR is looking to the next government to honour this.
TiR agrees with the findings of the 2018 EAT-Lancet report: food will be the defining issue of this century we are calling for the next Government to help design waste out of the supply chain and fix a broken system. Our next campaign will seek to engage stakeholders in changing the narrative to reframe food waste as a problem rooted in inequality and power imbalances.