Monday, October 29, 2018

Eliminating Food Waste Has Ramifications for the Supply Chain

A Change in Government Policies Needed to Reduce the Problem
Shipping News Feature
UK – WORLDWIDE – With environmental concerns high on the agenda for many shipping and associated businesses: the 2020 sulphur cap to reduce emissions: the giant gyres of plastic waste which haunt the oceans; plus a variety of urban pollutions from noise to congestion, the problem of food waste in the supply chain is very much in the spotlight. With growing concerns regarding the logistics of food importation once Britain leaves the EU, a new British report claims current policies are both inefficient and misguided.

Meanwhile the world’s largest container shipping line, Maersk, has lately put its name to a series of programmes to support reducing the $1 trillion lost globally as 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost annually. That’s an astonishing 75% of all food wasted prior to hitting the retail market.

FoodTrack from Maersk is aimed at helping start up entrepreneurs develop ways to fight this loss by offering financial and business support whilst ideas are developed and now the seriousness of the situation has been put further under the microscope by researchers at the University of Huddersfield who have been studying ways to eliminate supermarket food waste.

The researchers claim that cities and regions can reduce the burden of waste if they encourage ‘circular thinking’ as a way of distributing unsold food, but claim central government policy lags behind the developments in technology that would enable it. This was the line taken by Britain in wartime and the argument is that there is an urgent need to develop a modern equivalent, to help eliminate supermarket food waste.

The University of Huddersfield researchers have also concluded that financial incentives to send surplus food to anaerobic digestion facilities, in order to produce fuel and other products, help to reinforce the current ‘linear thinking’ that serves to create waste. A circular economic model aims to create a ‘closed-loop’ system that keeps resources in play as long as possible.

At the University of Huddersfield’s Business School, Dr John Lever, Dr Fiona Cheetham and Professor Morven McEachern undertook the research project into the sharing of supermarket food waste in the Huddersfield and Kirklees district. They carried out a series of detailed interviews with organisations that included supermarkets and independent food banks plus representatives of the local authority and regional NGOs.

The development of the circular model has implications for the supply chain as to develop it, as it was in wartime, more food must be produced regionally thus reducing food imports. With the spectre of an unsatisfactory outcome for the UK from the Brexit negotiations Britain would require a major shift in government thinking from the model currently supported both at home and with the EU in which subsidies are paid for land, some of which has not been used to produce food for decades. The University of Huddersfield authors note:

”There was a general consensus that it is all but impossible to eliminate food waste completely from supermarket operations and international food supply chains. Even in a sustainable food system, there will always be a degree of surplus food to be redistributed to people in need. While it is difficult to envisage a completely circular food system emerging, cities and regions can help to reduce the burden of supermarket food waste by encouraging circular economic thinking.

“Better Central Government policy and sustainable business models are needed to facilitate movement in this direction. Public and private bodies at the regional and national level must navigate the tensions involved as a matter of urgency.”

Dr Lever, who is Senior Lecturer in Sustainability, has also commented further on the comparison between the current situation and how circular economic thinking was evident during the Second World War, saying:

”People are once again worried about the scarcity of resource and governments are once again promoting circular thinking as a way of changing and sustaining production across all economic areas to address a range of increasing environmental problems”.

The report entitled ‘Supermarket food waste: prevent, redistribute, share: Towards a circular economy?’ is viewable here.