Libby Wyman, account director, Gong Communications

I love Christmas.  I’m obsessed with it. On the 1st of December, like clockwork, Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas’ rings out from every speaker, and along with it, I prepare to gain an extra kilo or two accompanied by a dollop of food guilt. I blame the stream of client and journalist Christmas lunches, festive catch-ups with friends and a massive family meal….all of which probably create tens of kilograms of food waste. And here’s where it gets a bit ‘Grinchy’…

Globally, we waste one third of all food produced.  That’s 1.3 billion tons per year or the equivalent of about 325 million turkeys. The resource needed for this food waste bonanza is staggering. It’s enough to fill the combined land mass of Canada and India and the equivalent of three refills of Lake Geneva. And the cost of this waste?  £1 billion worth of food is binned worldwide each year according to WRAP – much of it accumulated at this time of year.  If that isn’t enough to make your eyes bulge and your pocket hurt, I could move on to the associated deforestation impacts of this never-to-be-eaten food production (roughly 20% of all deforestation), but it’s Christmas so let’s move on to something a bit jollier.

The good news is progress is being made. Earlier this month the East of England Co-op announced it would sell food products past their sell by date for 10p, urging consumers: ‘Don’t be a binner. Eat it for dinner’. It estimates this could save over 50,000 products annually from landfill. While progressive legislation in France has made it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food waste since 2016, instead compelling them to donate it to foodbanks and charities. This, alongside other policies to limit consumer waste has resulted in it being lauded as the top performing nation by the most recent Sustainable Food Index, while food-obsessed Italy came out trumps in sustainable agriculture.

In developing countries, where many of our clients’ global supply chains originate, up to 40% of food is lost during harvest, drying and pre-consumption storage and transport. Our client Olam Cocoa is taking a lead in tackling Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 (to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains), by supporting farming communities where food waste is at the centre of a knot of complex issues, such as climate change, land degradation and gender disparity.

So, while big businesses are figuring out how to limit waste within their food supply chains, we’re also starting to see a corresponding shift in consumer attitudes – something I personally find encouraging. Whilst taking part in a recent B-Corp hackathon tackling SDG 12 (responsible production and consumption), a straw poll identified that the majority of people would take the sustainability, including waste management, of a restaurant into account when selecting somewhere to eat. However, what’s lacking at the moment is the platform for consumers to find these places to assert this choice.

Tackling food waste is an issue we all have a stake in, whether it’s a company re-thinking its practices or an individual planning their shopping list more consciously. What’s needed now is scalable innovation and a shared commitment to change.

For my part, it’s hugely rewarding to help clients communicate their contribution to sustainable food supply and on a personal level,  bring on those turkey leftovers!

Further food for thought: