The boss of Tesco has called on companies, and countries, to take a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to tackle food waste as the coronavirus pandemic focuses minds on global supplies.
Dave Lewis, who steps down next week, called on companies to regularly report on the food waste in their business and supply chain and take action to meet the UN’s sustainable development goal, set five years ago, to halve food waste by 2030.
Lewis is chair of a coalition of companies, food experts and campaign groups from around the world that have pledged to support the implementation of the UN target known as 12.3. They include leaders from the food groups Kellogg’s, Unilever, Nestlé, the retailers Ikea, Kroger, Walmart and Metro and environmental charity WWF.
Ten retailers in the Champions 12.3 group, which meets for its annual summit on Thursday, have worked with 200 of their major suppliers to commit to halving food waste in line with the target.
They say urgent action is needed because a third of the world’s food is thrown out, and production of this wasted food generates 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than any country bar the US or China. And yet the role of this waste is not recognised or reported on by many countries or companies. Meanwhile, one in nine people are going hungry.
Writing in the Guardian on Thursday, Lewis said: “Covid-19 has brought this issue into sharp focus in every country around the world. Governments are thinking about how to make supply chains more resilient and consumers are rethinking the value of food.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle food waste and, in doing so, help to change the course of the global climate emergency. Companies and countries talk about building back better. Now is the time to put that into action.”
The Champions 12.3 group is calling on food producers and retailers to collaborate to cut the amount of food wasted in the system or to redirect it to those in need.
They say governments should include food loss and waste reduction in their national commitments under the Paris agreement on climate change. Likewise, companies should include food loss and waste reduction in their emission reduction strategies, which should also be science based.
Lewis said a failure to take action would “fatally undermine our ability to tackle the climate emergency”.
A concerted effort in the UK, led by government-backed waste and recycling body Wrap, has cut food waste by 27% since 2007, saving about £4.7bn a year. A number of companies already have achieved reductions greater than 25%.
Tesco has reduced its food waste by 45,000 tonnes globally since it first began publishing the relevant data in 2013, according to figures published on Thursday. The supermarket has also worked with 71 suppliers, which have collectively cut 155,000 tonnes of waste from their operations in three years.