The government has announced that the reporting of food waste will not be made mandatory for large businesses in England despite this proposal receiving overwhelming support from respondents to its consultation. As such, food waste reporting will remain on a voluntary basis until mid-2025, when a review will be undertaken.
The 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy for England outlined the government’s approach to tackling food waste in England, with a pledge to consult on the annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food business operators (“FBOs”) and on the introduction of food waste targets and surplus food redistribution obligations. A consultation on improved food waste reporting by large businesses in England was launched in June 2022, with the Summary of Responses and Government Response published at the end of July 2023.
99% of respondents (80% when removing campaign responses) were in favour of introducing a food waste measurement and reporting requirement for large FBOs in England. Despite this, the government confirmed that “after careful consideration”, it has decided that a mandatory approach is not suitable at this time. By way of attempted justification, the response states that the majority of respondents were individuals participating in a campaign organised by a non-governmental organisation who campaign to improve the food system. The government noted that only 39% of respondents identified as a large business, meaning that most respondents would not be directly impacted by the proposals.
The consultation response suggested that the voluntary approach to food waste reporting has been broadly successful to date (despite acknowledging that the number of FBOs voluntarily reporting has stalled and is expected to plateau). As such, the government considered that a mandatory approach is not required. However, the rationale behind the government’s decision appears to ultimately be driven by cost. It considers the costs of introducing regulation for food waste reporting to be too high, noting that it is sensitive to the overall burden of regulation on businesses and is seeking to avoid measures that would drive inflation while cost of living challenges remain an issue for many consumers.
There is no sign of mandatory food waste reporting being introduced in England anytime soon. Instead, it is proposed that options will be considered to improve the number of FBOs undertaking voluntary reporting, which will remain in place until mid-2025 at a minimum. After this point, a review will be undertaken, with any changes to this approach made a minimum of 12 months following that review, or later. The position for the rest of the UK is largely the same, albeit Scotland has introduced proposals in the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill for powers to require waste information, which is expected to be applied initially to the public reporting of food waste and surplus by businesses.
The data gap generated by the failure to mandate food waste reporting is also likely to delay the introduction of mandatory targets to reduce food waste. This is in contrast to the position in the EU, where the European Commission has recently announced proposals for setting legally binding targets to reduce food waste by 2030, including a target to reduce food waste in retail stores, restaurants and households by 30% per capita by the end of 2030 (based on 2020 baseline figures).
The government’s announcement may be a welcome relief for some FBOs but for others, including those who have a robust voluntary reporting system already in place, it will represent a missed opportunity to introduce a level playing field for the reporting of efforts to reduce food waste and progress towards meeting any applicable sustainability commitments.