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UK could miss food waste recycling target due to COVID-19, says Warrens Group

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Food waste recycler Warrens Group has warned that the UK could miss its sustainable development goal of halving food waste by 2030 due to the impact of COVID-19.

The firm said the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 aims to cut food waste by half globally by 2030 and address its significant carbon and methane footprint. Warrens Group’s commercial director, Kevin Quigley, believes the amount of food waste being generated during lockdown could affect efforts being made across the UK’s food and drink sector.

Recent food waste figures revealed in a report by the Sustainable Restaurant Association and takeaway company JustEat showed takeaways had been generating 25% more food waste during the pandemic. The report also highlighted how the average cost of food waste produced weekly in UK takeaway restaurants has risen from £111 (€122) pre-lockdown to £148 (€163).

“At Warrens’ anaerobic digestion plant, our key workers have already recycled more than 22,000 tonnes of food waste in this first quarter of this year,” said Quigley. “On a daily basis, this includes recycling food waste from local authorities, schools, and businesses and converting it into green energy.

“A lot of food companies have pledged to tackle food waste, but COVID-19 has thrown many off-track and forced them to look at different ways of operating.”

According to Quigley, due to fluctuations in customer ordering patterns at restaurants, there has been a spike in binned food. “It remains to be seen whether restaurants that couldn’t open will also have a big waste dump as they prepare to reopen from July,” he added. “They must surely have a lot of food that has been in freezers and storage for the past few months that they can’t use.

“Overall, if we don’t act now, this will contribute to a bigger carbon footprint and restaurants and takeaways need to keep this front of mind as we head out of lockdown.”

Conversely, while there has been an increase in food waste during the pandemic, Quigley believes the situation has heightened people’s awareness of food waste in the home, adding: “If we can manage food waste now, it may act as a catalyst for the food waste industry to engage and educate the public about the environmental and economic benefits.”