Sandwich Waste: Pigs Get the Crusts

by 5m Editor
27 July 2009, at 11:31am

UK - One farmer is successfully feeding waste bread to his pigs but examples of environmentally friendly ways of reducing waste are few and far between.

According to a reporter on The Times, Hain Celestial Group was wasting 13,000 slices of fresh bread every day at its sandwich factory in Luton last year.

Marks & Spencer obliges the food manufacturer to throw out four slices from every loaf used – the crusts and the first slices inside the crust – and Hain Celestial was paying about £65,000 a year to send this unwanted bread to an anaerobic digestion plant to be turned into gas for power generation.

This is preferable to putting it in landfill but it would be more cost-effective and environmentally beneficial to use the bread as animal feed, which is still permissible under EU law as long as the company ensures the bread never comes into contact with meat.

Subsequently, Hain Celestial changed its waste policy and now sells its unwanted bread to a farmer for about £25 a tonne as feed for pigs and cattle. This saves a great deal of money and emits no carbon dioxide.

Marks & Spencer may be at fault for requiring its supplier to discard so much bread, continues the report, but Hain Celestial now has an enlightened policy for reducing the impact of this waste. Other companies would do well to follow it. Too often, such opportunities are missed.

From farm to plate, an estimated 18 to 20 million tonnes of food are wasted every year in the UK. About one-third of this is in households. The rest is wasted by businesses.

The environmental impact includes unnecessary greenhouse-gas emissions, water usage, land degradation, exacerbation of world hunger and deforestation.

Beyond these costs, the economic case for reducing food waste is so clear that it is a mystery why so many businesses have failed to take adequate measures to curb waste.

That companies can save money by reducing waste has been amply demonstrated by several studies. Envirowise, the government-funded advisory body, has helped 24 companies and more than 600 of their suppliers to identify £12 million of potential savings through measures to cut waste.

One project involving 13 food and drink companies in East Anglia brought about annual savings of £1.1 million, according to The Times. It also reduced the use of raw materials and the production of solid waste by 1,400 tonnes, carbon dioxide emissions by 670 tonnes and water use by 70,000 cubic metres.

Shahin Rahimifard and his colleagues at Loughborough University designed a system for manufacturers of supermarket ready meals that saved one company between £520,000 and £780,000 a year – up to 20 per cent of its costs.

These exceptional examples prove that much of the waste deemed inevitable by many can be eliminated. But even when offered advice and assistance, some companies have pushed it aside, citing a lack of time and human resources to tackle the job.

So the question facing the government is how to nudge companies into taking these measures? One of the top priorities is to introduce waste reporting and set targets for the reduction of food waste.

The government and industry initiative, the Food Industry Sustainability Strategy Champions' Group on Waste, voluntarily agreed to try to reduce food and packaging waste in food manufacturing by three per cent a year over five years from 2006.

To measure such small changes requires accurate waste reporting, which is, at present, lacking and there is no baseline data for 2006 against which to monitor performance.

In 2007, the group recommended that the big retailers should see whether they could develop a voluntary framework for recording waste from stores.

Yet there are no moves to publish how much food the retailers waste. Of all the big supermarkets, only the Cooperative has published a clear statement in its annual report on the amount of food it throws away – and even this fails to indicate whether the sum refers to back-of-store waste or whether it includes waste in its supply chain.

The government's recent decision to undertake a new national waste survey may at last provide a reliable bench-mark for waste in the food industry as a whole. To create a competitive environment in which companies have an incentive to clean up their production chains, they should be compared with each other to see which ones perform the best.

The supermarkets prefer to keep their food-waste statistics secret on the grounds that publishing the figures could help their competitors improve their own waste reduction. No better reason could be provided for making food-waste reporting mandatory. Everyone would be on a level playing field in which the goal was to cut waste.

Last year's Cabinet Office report, 'Food Matters', which laid out the government's food strategy for the 21st century, emphasised that the government would seek "a new voluntary agreement to cut significantly the amount of food wasted in the supply chain and in the home – for conclusion by February 2009".

The 'supply chain' element of this, however, has yet to materialise. None of the big retailers has a target for cutting food waste in its supply chain.

There has been a great deal of attention on avoiding landfill by sending food for anaerobic digestion but much more needs to be done to cut the amount of food wasted, regardless of the disposal method.

The time has surely come to make waste reporting obligatory – especially for supermarkets – and to set binding targets for reducing food waste.

Companies need not fear that this would usher in a slew of profit-harming measures, reports The Times. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that waste reduction is one of the simplest quick-win environmental gains that also invariably reduces costs and thus improves profits overall.

The author of the article. Tristram Stuart, learnt about food waste in his teens when he was rearing pigs. He would give kitchen staff cuts of pork in return for uneaten dishes and peelings.

His epiphany came as he tucked into the sun-dried tomato organic bread leftovers before feeding them to his pigs. "Eating that bread was my first act of what I later learnt to call 'freeganism' – the consumption of discarded food," he writes in his book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal. While reading English at Cambridge, he was a regular at Sainsbury's bins.

Copies of his book can be ordered for £9.49 with free postage from The Sunday Times Books First on 0845 271 2135.

Sponsored content