Should Food Waste Reporting be Mandatory?

Mandatory food waste reporting will not be introduced for large businesses in England after a consultation by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). This is despite 80% of almost 4,000 respondents being in favour of new food waste legislation in the UK for waste food reporting by large and medium-sized businesses.

Currently, food waste reporting is voluntary, which is set to continue for the next few years. More than 200 businesses voluntarily reported their waste food figures in 2022 and year-on-year data shows such organisations managed to reduce their food waste. However, there are concerns about costs and inflation, which led to mandatory reporting being ruled out.

Learn all about food waste reporting, what the consultation found, the advantages and disadvantages, and what the future holds for food waste reporting.

food waste in a wheelie bin.

Why was there a 
food waste reporting consultation?

The UK creates 9.5 million tonnes of food waste annually, with most of it produced by households. This has a total cost of around £19 billion and associated emissions of 36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Of this amount, businesses create more than 2.9 million tonnes of food waste every year.

The UK government has a 25-Year Environment Plan that aims to improve the environment. Food waste plays a part in this and the Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) for England outlines the government’s approach to food waste in the country. It includes a pledge to consult on annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses.

For this reason, Defra ran its food waste reporting consultation to assess the views of those across various industries and determine any actions to take. The consultation aimed to gather thoughts about:

  • Food waste reporting improvement options
  • Businesses in scope
  • Waste food materials to be reported
  • The reporting process businesses should follow
  • Costs and impacts
  • Regulatory enforcement

Food waste reporting 
consultation results

The consultation ran from 13 June 2022 to 5 September 2022, with the summary of responses and government response published on 28 July 2023. These are some of the key results and data from the consultation about mandatory food waste reporting:

  • There were 3,851 respondents to the consultation.
  • 39% of respondents qualified as large-sized businesses
  • 80% of respondents were in favour of Option 2, requiring food waste measurement and reporting for large food businesses. Individuals, respondents from charities and social enterprises, and hospitality and retail sectors, all primarily shared this view.
  • 64% of respondents didn’t agree that medium-sized businesses (MSBs) should be outside the scope of any regulations. However, only 4% of respondents responding to this question qualified as MSBs.
  • Around half of all large food businesses in England measured and reported their food waste figures voluntarily in 2022.

The government’s response also refers to WRAP’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap Progress Report 2021. This uses data from businesses that voluntarily reported their food waste and found:

  • 140 businesses with year-on-year data made a 17% overall reduction in food waste in 2021. This was worth £365 million.
  • Businesses measuring and reporting food waste data year-on-year collectively saved 251,000 tonnes of food from going to waste in 2021.
  • These businesses reported increased efficiency reducing waste per tonne of food handled by 13 to 15%.
What happens to food waste?

Advantages of mandatory 
food waste reporting

The main advantage of mandatory food waste reporting is that it should help businesses reduce the amount of waste food they produce. As the progress report by WRAP shows, of the 140 businesses that provided voluntary food waste reporting in 2021 they achieved an average of 17% reduction in food waste.

Another key advantage of mandatory food waste reporting is the amount of money it can also save businesses. The same WRAP report found organisations that reported their food waste managed to save a total of £365 million. And cutting food waste also helps reduce carbon emissions related to its transportation and disposal.

There’s a decent uptake of voluntary food waste reporting by businesses. Making it mandatory with new food waste legislation in the UK would ensure all relevant companies take action. This could help the country work towards its target to cut food waste by 50% by 2030 and positively impact the environment.

food waste in a kitchen sink.

Disadvantages of mandatory 
food waste reporting

One of the main issues with mandatory food waste reporting and reasons why the government hasn’t yet implemented it is the costs involved. It’s estimated that the total average annual reporting costs to business would be around £5.3 million. That’s significantly more than the £0.3 million to enhance current voluntary food waste reporting agreements.

The total cost across the 12-year appraisal period is estimated to be £63.8m to require food waste measurement and reporting for large food businesses. That’s compared to £11.7m for enhancing voluntary reporting. Reporting for large food businesses works out at up to £32,362 per year for a business new to food waste reporting.

One body that opposed mandatory reporting due to such cost issues was the National Farmers Union. The voluntary approach to food waste reporting has also proved fairly successful, so continuing to encourage this without the costs and time involved to bring in new legislation is the government’s preferred route.

food waste on plates in a restaurant.

The future of 
food waste reporting

A voluntary approach to food waste reporting will remain in place for a few years. There will be a review sometime in mid-2025 to assess the impact and whether UK food waste legislation is required to bring in mandatory food waste reporting or not. This could involve another consultation.

Keeping a record and reporting surplus and waste food from your business is advisable whether it becomes mandatory or not. This can highlight areas where waste food is produced regularly so you can put in place solutions to reduce it as much as possible. Plus, it can ensure your business is prepared if mandatory food waste reporting is introduced.

Get help with your 
commercial food waste management

At Business Waste, we encourage all organisations to reduce their food waste as much as possible. Our experts can advise where necessary and help you create an effective waste management plan. We also arrange collections of commercial food waste and ensure responsible disposal. It’s sent for composting or anaerobic digestion, never to landfill.

We provide a wide range of free bins to store food waste your business produces with no rental or delivery fees – you only pay for collection. Book food waste collection on a daily, weekly, or fortnightly schedule to suit your schedule. Collections are available anywhere in the UK.

Get in touch for a free quote for commercial food waste collection today – contact us online or call 0800 211 8390. One of our friendly team can answer any questions, help improve your commercial food waste management, and advise on reporting.

Learn more about commercial food waste management
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