Businesses in the retail and foodservice sector have been urged by the government to take ‘ground-breaking action’ to reduce the mountain of food waste produced in the UK.

The call comes from the government’s food surplus and waste champion Ben Elliot ahead of a symposium called ‘Step up to the plate’, which he will host alongside environment secretary Michael Gove.

Attendees at the event, which takes place at the London V&A Museum on Monday 13 May, will be expected to sign up to a number of commitments around measuring and reducing food waste, as well as inspiring others to do the same. The call extends as far as chefs and social media influencers.

The pledge asks attendees to reduce food waste by:

  • Setting an ambitious target to halve food waste by 2030 in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.
  • Adopting the WRAP and IGD Food Waste Reduction Roadmap to have half of all 250 of the of the UK’s largest food businesses measuring, reporting and acting on food waste by 2019.
  • Embracing a Food Conversation week of action in November 2019 to highlight the changes we can all make.
  • Using their voice and profile to empower and encourage citizens, including the younger generation.
  • Changing their habits as an individual to be Food Value Champion at work and at home, buying only what they need and eating what they buy.

“Together, we must end the moral, economic, and environmental scandal of food waste. The UK is showing real leadership in this area, but I urge businesses to join me in signing the pledge so we can bring about real change,” said Gove.

“Every year, around 100,000 tonnes of readily available and perfectly edible food goes uneaten. It’s time to join together and ‘Step up to the Plate’ to stop good food going to waste.”

Elliot added that he hoped the symposium and pledge would “spark action, not just conversation”.

The move has been welcomed by the UK Former Foodstuffs Processors Association (UKFFPA). “More and more people have been acknowledging the need to reduce food waste. We welcomed Ben Elliot’s appointment and see this latest initiative as another important step towards greater food waste reduction,” said UKFFPA chairman Paul Featherstone.

“The work of UKFFPA – taking food that cannot be consumed by humans and putting it back into the food supply chain as animal feed – is a critical part of the ‘circular economy’ and makes a significant contribution to food waste reduction.”

In addition, the government today (8 May) announced it had awarded £4m to four redistribution organisations across England to help overcome the barriers in getting food currently going to waste onto people’s plates.

The successful bids came from Fareshare, Company Shop Group, The Felix Project and Food Works Sheffield.

As part of the exercise, the organisations had to put forward proposals on how they would increase redistribution of food. Solutions included developing new supply routes from growers and local distributors, funding new lines and additional staff, as well as increasing capacity for repackaging and labelling.

A further round of funding will focus on improving infrastructure for companies to redistribute even more of the estimated 100,000 tonnes of food that is edible and readily available, but goes uneaten. Instead, this food is currently sent away for generating energy, anaerobic digestion or animal feed.