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Sustain Food Waste

Sustain supports a reduction in food surplus, loss and waste.

We are currently seeking funding to be able to run projects designed to provide practical assistance in reducing food surplus and waste. In the meantime, here is some information and links to others working in this area.

Currently Sustain is supporting a number of important policy initiatives, including:

  • The Pig Idea: run by the food waste campaign group Feedback, calling for the ban to be overturned that prevents catering waste being used for animal feed.
  • The Grocery Code Adjudicator Action Network: involving Traidcraft, the Fairtrade Foundation, National Farmers Union, Sustain and others. It calls for the UK Grocery Code Adjudicator to take more action to prevent unfair trading practices by UK supermarkets, including those that currently result in large amounts of good food being wasted, here and abroad.

You may also be interested in the new Courtauld 2025 agreement, managed by the waste reduction organisation WRAP. It sets voluntary targets for industry to reduce food waste and direct edible surpluses to useful purposes. Sustain's Real Bread Campaign is a Courtauld 2025 Engagement Partner.

The number of calls we receive from people wanting to set up local enterprises and initiatives shows there is a demand for information and support.

What is food waste?

Whether intentionally or accidentally, not all food that is intended for people actually gets eaten. This can happen anywhere along the chain from producer to consumer. This can be split in to waste and surplus:

  • Food waste: Not fit for human or animal consumption, but can be used for compost or energy recovery (eg via anaerobic digestion) - not for landfill! This includes lost food, that is spilled or spoiled along the supply chain.
  • Surplus food: More produced, stocked or purchased than can be sold/consumed. Surplus food is still fit to eat, either by humans or animals, and so doesn't need to become waste.

What is the cost of food waste?

When we throw food in the bin, we are effectively throwing away all the energy, effort, water and natural resources that went into making that food in the first place. About one third of food is thrown away – on the farm, by companies, by supermarkets and at home. That’s enough to feed three billion people, so the consequences of food waste are economic, environmental and humanitarian, and simply unacceptable.

The cost of food waste is astronomical. In financial terms alone, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) calculates that it works out to 1 trillion US dollars every year.

In 2013, the waste organisation WRAP estimated that food waste costs the UK’s hospitality and catering industries £2.5 billion per year, rising to £3 billion per year by 2016 if no action was taken.

A UK government (Defra) report of the same year calculated that British households throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink (the majority of which could have been eaten), worth £12 billion, every year.

The Food Waste Pyramid

The food waste campaign group Feedback created the Food Waste Pyramid to illustrate the order of preference for what should happen to food:

  • It gets eaten. Steps taken along the supply chain to prevent, or at least reduce, the amount that is lost or becomes surplus to requirements
  • Surplus is redistributed to people in need, for example through charities or social enterprises
  • It is fed to animals
  • Unavoidable food waste is composted or used to generate energy

Sending food to landfill falls off the bottom of the pyramid.

The need for legislation

We want to live in a country where every everyone can afford to feed themselves and their children. In the fifth largest economy in the world this is well within reach, yet in the UK an estimated 8.4 million people struggle to get enough to eat. Often parents will miss meals so their children can eat. Whilst redistributing food that would otherwise go uneaten is a compassionate response, and reduces the amount of edible food going to waste - food aid will not solve the deep causes of food poverty.

Low pay and insufficient welfare support, as well as lack of availability in some areas, leaves people unable to put food on the table to feed their families. To make food poverty a thing of the past we need food, work and welfare policies that uphold our Right to Food. At the same time, we need to be radically reducing the amount of food going to waste for pressing ethical and environmental reasons, but not falling into the trap of seeing inherently wasteful business practices as the way to solve hunger.

Sustain supports effective measures to reduce food surplus, direct unavoidable food surplus to useful purposes and ensure that as little food waste as possible ends up in landfill. As such, Sustain is supportive of WRAP’s work and recognises that voluntary initiatives can create knowledge, examples of good practice and start to build momentum towards societal and legislative change.

Such is the seriousness and scale of food waste, however, that Sustain does not believe voluntary agreements alone are enough to tackle the problem. Robust legislation is a key element in creating a level playing field on which all stakeholders (including businesses, government, local authorities and consumers) can work to build a better, low-input, circular, stable and truly sustainable food system.

A range of effective legislative action would change the rules within which food producers, manufacturers, retailers and foodservice companies manage food and supply chains, encouraging collaboration and treating waste as a pre-competitive issue. This would include meaningful, legally-binding and suitably enforced waste reduction targets and assigned responsibilities, as well as reporting requirements to track progress over time.

National organisations and networks working in food waste reduction

If there are other organisations you feel that we should highlight, please let us know

Note: At present, it is very hard to find collection services for food waste that is legally permissible for animal feed, such as spent grains from brewing, whey from cheese-making, and surplus bread, fruit and vegetables, where these can be guaranteed to be free from any contamination by animal products.

Some good schemes exist and Sustain helped some food processors and wholesalers in London to connect with local pig and chicken farmers. But there is definitely a gap in the market for more collection services, and the government could help by increasing the landfill gate price for food waste, to provide a financial incentive.


Here are some enterprises that help to prevent surplus food from being wasted.

Read some of their inspiring stories collected as part of the FoodSave project.

Funding and guidance

If you are looking for funding and advice/guidance for a social enterprise or charitable initiative, you might find these to be useful leads:

Reducing food waste at home

For tips on how to reduce food waste at home, take a look at WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

See also

  • FoodSave: a project we worked on in London to help businesses reduce their food waste, and send edible surplus to useful purposes.
  • London Food Link: Our network that unites people who grow, make, cook, sell and enjoy good food in London


Food Waste: Sustain supports a reduction in food surplus, loss and waste.

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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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